Mounted Patrol Unit is Discontinued
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, April 2, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Rich Beauchesne file photo]
HAMPTON — A nearly 30-year tradition of patrolling the beach on horseback during the summer is coming to an end now that a final decision has been made to have the Hampton Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit ride off into the sunset.
The two Tennessee walking horses, Butch and Arrow, will soon be put up for adoption, while the officers normally involved in the unit will be reassigned to other duties this summer.
"We were at the point where we were forced to make a decision that up until now nobody wanted to make," Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said. "This was a difficult decision. They are a part of the Hampton Police family. They are our trademark."
While the Municipal Budget Committee recommended full funding for the unit in its proposed 2010 operating budget of $24.3 million for the town, the proposal was defeated at the March 9 election.And while the default budget is $9,000 more than the committee's budget,
selectmen have decided to use the 2010 budget they prepared — which called for the elimination of the unit— as a starting off point in coming up with a revised budget for the town based on the March vote.
The chief said due to budget reductions he was initially asked to make by selectmen, it became a choice between either "horseshoes on the street" or additional "boots on the street."
"Ideally I wanted both," Sullivan said, "but I understand that right now, that is not a possibility."
Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols doesn't believe the board will have a change of heart as far as the two-horse unit is concerned.
"From a cost effective standpoint, the Mounted Patrol Unit just doesn't make sense," Nichols said. "I have mixed emotions.
"I like the horses, but at the same time, I think we have reached a point where people don't want to see their taxes continue to go up and up," the board chairman said.
The unit was established in 1981 by former Hampton Police Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier as a way to respond to crowd control issues that had plagued Hampton Beach, including the infamous riots of 1964.
The chief said the unit in the last year was more for show than it was for active duty due to a lack of training for both the horses and officers. In order to make it viable again, Sullivan said an "infusion of dollars" would be needed in this year's budget that the department just doesn't have.
Currently the default budget contains $20,000 for the unit. Sullivan said the department needs $41,000 to make the unit viable.
"We were either going to invest in it properly or it was time to step away from it," Sullivan said.
Joe Jones, president of the Hampton Police Association, said he is sad to see the unit go. He served as one of the officers in the unit for more than six years.
"It's a part of the town's history," Jones said. "A lot of people come to the beach just to see the horses."
He said there is no better tool for crowd control than a horse.
Sullivan said he and the selectmen had discussed the possibility of keeping the horses for a year, but not use them. The houses are currently housed at Runnymede Farm of North Hampton.
"The only other possibility would be to barn the animals and continue to feed them, which to me is a waste of dollars given what we are dealing with," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he would rather see that money go toward pre-season coverage and additional training for his officers.
The chief said the horses will be put up for adoption, but the department will keep the equipment in case the selectmen want to reinstate the unit in the future.
Jones, however, doesn't see that happening.
"Once its gone, it's going to be tough getting it back," he said.
Originally the unit consisted of four Tennessee Walking horses, but went down to only two of the animals, Buddy and Blaze. They retired because of their ages and were not replaced due to budget constraints.
Over the years, the horses have also been the department's biggest public relations tool, Sullivan said.