Disney Adds Sheriff's Horse Patrols, Tightens Gun Policies

Walt Disney World has tightened gun policies and is adding sheriff's deputies on horseback as the theme park and other prominent public places continue to beef up security. Disney did not say whether the changes were in response to recent terror attacks in France and California that left scores of people dead.

"We have a comprehensive approach to security and continuously review our security procedures in collaboration with law enforcement," Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office's mounted patrol unit is expected to start patrolling at Disney Springs next month. Disney and a sheriff's spokesman wouldn't disclose how often the horses will walk the premises.

Disney said it had already been making plans for the patrols before a Christmas night brawl at its dining and shopping complex that escalated into chaos when people mistakenly thought they'd heard gunshots.

Disney's theme parks also have stopped the little-known practice of allowing guests to check in firearms with company security rather than having to leave to store their weapons elsewhere. Guns are banned from the parks.

A Disney spokeswoman acknowledged the change had occurred but would not provide details about the process.

Theme parks in Central Florida and California have been increasing security after deadly attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and San Bernardino.

On Dec. 17, Disney World, Universal Orlando andSea World all began using metal detectors to screen visitors entering the theme parks. SeaWorld started out with wands but has since installed walk-through metal detectors.

The day before, the federal Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin saying it was "especially concerned that terrorist-inspired individuals and homegrown violent extremists might be encouraged or inspired to target public events or places."

Disney this month also discontinued the sale of toy guns and has banned costumes for guests ages 14 and older.

The deputies on horseback will be in addition to 63 sheriff's employees who already serve the resort through a $7.6 million annual contract. There will be no additional cost to Disney.

The sheriff's office already uses the horses throughout Orange County at places where crowds gather, sheriff's spokesman Capt. Angelo Nieves said. Five deputies are in the mounted patrol unit.

"They're deployed depending on our needs," he saiddeclining to provide details.

Disney Springs is undergoing an expansion that's doubling the number of shops and restaurants. Disney's contract with the sheriff's office has been increased to cover the cost of eight bicycle deputies patrolling new parking garages at Disney Springs.

The Orlando Police Department also has an equestrian unit, but it does not patrol Universal's CityWalk nightlife district that's within city limits. Unlike the more open Disney Springs, CityWalk can only be accessed by visitors who walk through a security area that includes bag checks.

Nieves said sheriff's horses sometimes patrolled Disney in the past, but the theme park stopped using them a couple of years ago because of their manure. Now, Nieves said, the sheriff's office will provide special bags for catching it.

Horse patrols can help control crowds. They also provide law officers with a height advantage that allows them to more easily see and be seen.

"It allows the crowds and people to see that law enforcement has a presence," Nieves said.

In anxious times, people want that feeling of security, said Duncan Dickson, associate professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

"I think it's just to ease the soul of the guests, to make them feel like they're safe and well protected," Dickson said. "I think it's just a show. Certainly horse patrols are good at crowd control because nobody wants to take on an 1,800-pound horse."

Dickson said the change in the gun storage policy, though, may have been driven by legal concerns. Dave Workman, spokesman for a gun-rights group called Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, agreed.

"It's possible that they didn't want to take the responsibility or the liability for any lost firearm," he said. "I've never heard of another theme park that would be willing to store a firearm for somebody."

SeaWorld and Universal Orlando do not allow guns. SeaWorld said it will not store them. A Universal spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Created: Jan 13th, 2016 at 8:25 pm