Is Saving the Mounted Patrol Possible?

An Opinion

Hampton Union, Tuesday, April 6, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

From left to right are officers Timothy Hamlen (on horse Sergeant),
Andy Jowett (on Blaze), Barry Newcomb (on Peacock)
and Joseph Jones (on the late Senator).

[Courtesy photo from Hampton Union July 9, 1981]

After 29 years on Hampton Beach, the Hampton Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit might be gone forever.

Selectmen made the decision last week based on the results of the March 9 election that saw the 2010 budget defeated and the deterioration of the unit after years of receiving only minimal funding from voters. Complicating the matter is the current state of the economy and the pressure to keep property taxes from rising.

The decision is certainly understandable. After all, the patrol was down to two officers and two horses, barely enough to call it a "unit," and a substantial amount of money would have had to be expended in officer training and room and board for the horses to bring the patrol up to standards.

No one has said the Mounted Patrol Unit is not a good tool for beach law enforcement. In fact, the impetus for the unit was the infamous Hampton Beach riots of 1964, when exploding Molotov cocktails and National Guard machine-gun nests dotted Ocean Boulevard.

The huge crowds that came to the beach were no match for the Hampton officers charged with keeping the peace, and alternatives were sought to strengthen the ability of local law enforcement to deal with any potential incident.

Seventeen years later, with the effort of then-Deputy Police Chief Dennis Pelletier, the Hampton Mounted Patrol Unit was formed.

It was determined that horses were the most effective form of crowd control. When confronted by officers and motorized vehicles unruly crowds held sway, but when confronted by a single horse and rider the crowds gave way.

In addition, the horses could take to the sands to prevent a crime or contain a criminal and could make their way through the morass of parked and moving vehicles that is the beach during the high-volume, summer months. And from the saddle an officer has a much better view of what the surroundings are than a counterpart in an enclosed police cruiser.

There is, in fact, no substitute for a well-trained horse in the law enforcement environment on Hampton Beach.

However, enforcement is not the only thing for which police horses are good. Over the years, the Hampton Union and Beachcomber must have printed, literally, more than 1,000 pictures of visitors to the beach petting these animals and talking to the officers who rode them.

It soon became clear that the Mounted Patrol Unit was also a public relations tool for both the Police Department, in particular, and Hampton Beach, in general.

During the off-season, the horses appeared in many a Fourth of July and even Christmas parades, always generating a sense of pride and place in the townspeople in attendance. The Mounted Patrol Unit fast became — and continued to be — a community symbol.

That is why every attempt, within reason, to save this unit should be encouraged.

In 1985, a group named The Friends of the Mounted Patrol was formed. Its mission was to come up with the funds for things the unit needed that were not supplied through the town operating budget. We seem to be in that same situation again this year and, perhaps, there needs to be a resurgence in the "Friends" group.

The Mounted Patrol Unit is part of this town's history and a much needed tool for both law enforcement and public relations at Hampton Beach. Police Chief James Sullivan has indicated it would take approximately $40,000 to refurbish the unit and the default town operating budget already had $20,000 put in it by the Budget Committee for the unit.

Residents and this paper can only hope that someone comes forward to either lead the fund-raising effort or contribute what is, in the large scheme of things, a miniscule amount of money to keep this unit alive. The returns the region would get from this act would far outweigh the price paid.