By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, November 1, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo by Andrew Moore]
HAMPTON - Since its inception in 1981, the Hampton Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit slogan has been "serving the community, supported by the community."
That motto is going to tested since the unit is slated to be eliminated next year unless the public decides to save it.
Hampton Police Lt. Richard Sawyer, who is in charge of the unit, said it was a difficult decision to eliminate the horses from next year's proposed budget.
"All the departments in town have to make choices due to the budget constraints," said Sawyer. "Those choices come down to wants and needs. We need to have police officers on the street. We need to have vehicles and equipment. When I look at the mounted patrol, it's a want. But we want to desperately keep it."
Sawyer said it's the police department's intent to ask selectmen to put a warrant article on the March ballot to ask the voters if they want to fund the unit.
The unit, which is scheduled to celebrate its 25th anniversary, is used mostly during the summer months for crowd control at the beach. Over the years, the horses have also been the department's biggest public relations tool.
"If you talk to any officer, they will tell you the mounted patrol unit is a great tool to have in order to maintain order down at Hampton Beach," said Sawyer. "I remember when I was riding and we had to respond to a fight, as soon as people hear the clickety clock of the foot and look up and see the horses, all of a sudden the fight ended. Just the mere presence of these guys on horseback help stop problems before they start or ends it before it gets out of control."
The unit was the brainchild of former Hampton Police Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier as a way to respond to crowd control issues that plagued Hampton Beach in 1979 and 1980.
Pelletier, then a sergeant, got the OK from then Police Chief Robert Mark to seek private donations for the start of the unit.
Pelletier managed to raise $25,000, which bought four horses and riding gear, including breeches, boots, saddles and helmets.
The following year, taxpayers got behind the unit and OK'd $7,000 from town funds to help defray the costs of maintaining the program and directed selectmen to do the same.
Currently, the department has three riders, Tim Hamlin, Joe Jones and Andy Jowett, but Sawyer said if the unit returns next year another one will be appointed.
Their partners are tall, bay Tennessee walking horses.
The oldest horse, working for the department since 1996, is Blaze. There is also Buddy, Sam and Patriot.
The horses are stabled at the Tidewater Campground.
Wallace "Wally" Shaw built the horse barn at no cost to the police department or town.
Sawyer said a lot of time goes into training the horses to prepare them for situations such as loud noises and people coming close to them.
All four horses have the ability to deal with the intense circumstances they might face while serving at the beach.
"Bomb proof" is the term the patrol has come to use to describe the horses.
Crowd control by night
Captain Jamie Sullivan said the mounted unit has always been a positive addition to the police force.
"The primary thing the unit brought to us is significant public relations," Sullivan said. "People love to see the horses and horse riders and we have ... better capability to patrol hard-to-get-to areas."
Sawyer agrees they are good PR for the department and that it is a very effective way to control the large crowds that often form at events during the summer.
"Because of the nature of our work, it's hard to keep a positive image sometimes," he said, "The horses help offset that."
Sullivan also explained that the horses are perfect for dealing with the crowds that form at night.
He said, "One advantage is visibility, both from the horse and that people can see us."
Jones has been with the unit for the last four years and rides Buddy.
Jones said the unit came in handy during the July 4 drowning of two Massachusetts men at Hampton Beach.
"The officers were trying to clear the beach and there were a lot of people giving the officers a hard time," said Jones. "We came in and cleared off the whole beach within seconds."
Costs to keep the unit running
Sullivan said cost to keep the unit is maintenance and training.
It costs $46,000 for the grooming, caring and feeding of the horses. The town also expends $31,200 for boarding the animals and roughly $10,000 in training.
The amount that the police department will need to keep the unit next year is $41,444.
Most of the equipment and the horses are donated.
Sawyer said they get funding from the nonprofit organization called the Hampton Mounted Patrol.
"They offset the cost for all the equipment," said Sawyer. "They also donate the horses."
Jones said it would be a shame to see the unit go.
"I think it brings a lot of class to the town of Hampton," said Jones. "It's history too, if you really think about it. I think the people will vote for it. A lot of people come to beach just to see the horses."