Hampton Beach Police Keep Up Pace
By Nancye Tuttle, Sun Staff
The Sunday Sun, June 30, 1985
Summertime swings at Hampton Beach. And the mounted unit, pride and joy of the thriving resort's hefty police department, is here, there, everywhere from bustling Ocean Boulevard to a small back street business to the wide expanse of beach that makes Hampton famous.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Patrolman David Cargill canters his mount SUNDANCE into traffic on Ocean Boulevard at D Street in front of the Club Casino, stopping the fast-moving autos in their path and directing cars from a side street out onto the busy pavement.
"This is a busy weekend -- a lot of crowds and people. Summer's officially started," Cargill says.
"They keep these horses in real good shape," says tourist John Ruffo of Worcester, stopping to look at the horses on his way to ocean's edge. "They're fantastic."
Six-year-old Toby, who doesn't know his last name or where he's from, approaches Cargill and Sundance. "I want to pat the horsey."
SUNDANCE lowers his head to the child and Cargill assesses the situation. "I think he know where he lives. It's easy to tell if they're lost. Then they're crying and screaming."
Riding as a mountie adds excitement to the job. Listing the pluses of working on horseback, Cargill says, "Increased visibility plus public relations. Better crowd control -- there's 1500 pounds of muscle here. And they can do traffic," says Cargill.
"It's a different aspect of police work -- you're out in the open and people are nicer to you," he notes. "Young and old alike want to come up to you. The horses are friendly animals and ideal for this work."
In agreement, Tuttle, the newest member of the mounted unit, says, "There's more diversity and challenge." In fact, he's gotten more rewards from this job since qualifying in April than from past assignments. "I enjoy coming to work," he says.
Integral as part of Hampton's police department over the last five years, the unit is comprised of four Tennessee walking horses -- SUNDANCE, MAGIC, RASTA and SCOUT -- and their riders, Patrolmen Dave Cargill, Jim Tuttle and Neal Socha and Sgt. Dennis Galvin, sergeant in charge of the mounted patrol.
Rave reviews come from townspeople and visitors alike for Hampton's mounties, the only unit in New Hampshire and one of only a few in New England that includes Boston, Portland, Maine, Providence, R.I., and the Massachusetts State Police.
Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier gets full credit for bringing the mounties to Hampton Beach. On an earlier visit to the spacious horse barn, donated by local resident Wallace Shaw and located a few miles from the police station on his land, Pelletier grooms MAGIC. "I'm giving him a shave and a haircut," he jokes, adding "we don't have the luxuries of Boston -- no grooms yet."
The horses mean a lot to him, but MAGIC is special -- he rode this horse before his recent promotion. "You really get attached to the damned things. It's tough for me as deputy chief to break from the day-to-day routine," he admits.
"My theory is that a horse is worth 10 men in a severe crowd control problem," Pelletier explains. "A properly trained police horse and his rider make life easier to expedite the problem."
The citizens needed little convincing in accepting a mounted unit, but a key selling point focused on Hampton's three miles strip of beach. A horse can traverse the sand at 30 to 35 miles an hour, curtailing alcohol and other problems -- no small feat in a small town whose population can swell to 150,000 on a hot weekend in July or August.
"It's been good for us in public relations as well as the tactical advantage," Pelletier says, "You see mounted units cropping up all over the country -- it's a sign of the times. The oldest style of patrol is coming back."
Housing the horses was solved thanks to Shaw's generosity. He liked the concept of a mounted patrol and donated land and materials for the barn. Pelletier says, "He financed the stable, which he and I designed, and donated the materials."
Citizens joined with Pelletier and Shaw to build the barn, while other community members donated $25,000 to purchase the horses ($1500 each), saddles, feed and a trainer. New trailers to transport the horses are recent donations.
Upkeep and feed run about $20,000 a year now, according to Pelletier. The town pays board to Shaw, who feeds, pastures and turns out the horses. "It's worked out just great," he says.
When the program started, the officers went for private instruction. "They had to know how to ride and to be a cop on horseback," says Pelletier. Now, with the unit firmly established, training and instruction is done within the force and includes annual qualifying requirements.
Regular two-man, two horse shifts are on throughout the summer, but on a nice day in March or warmer autumn weekends, visitors to the beach will see Hampton's mounties. "We're out for several days around Halloween," explains Galvin. "And we go to parades through December."
During the winter, the horses are worked out in the fenced in paddock by the barn once a week for exercise and may be transported to the beach on a pleasant day for a canter across the sand.
An important aspect of their care includes regular shoeing, done by blacksmith Bill McPhee. He nails on tungsten carbide shoes that dig into pavement. A rubber type pad helps the horse to canter across the sand. The feet are oiled with hoof oil as routine maintenance to keep moisture in and as added protection.
"Of all the horses I do, these are the most gentle," says McPhee.
But gentle or not, the horses are well-trained for police work and operate effectively within crowds. Last summer saw five serious occasions where the horses expedited the offficers' work.
In one, a large fight broke out after a concert at the Casino, "The horses are able to keep hand-to-hand control to a minimum," says Pelletier, "If we're fortunate to have the horses there at the right time, it may curtail arrests."
All four members of the unit are on duty during busy weekends, over the Fourth of July, and following large concerts at the Casino, the powerful sight of horse and rider makes many people think twice before acting unwisely or violently. "The horses can be changed in a few seconds with a few commands. They're less threatening but they can be authoritative," Pelletier says.
And there's few things more impressive than a mounted unit in a parade, something the Hampton mounties enjoy, Pelletier says. "It's always worked out that we can go to parades. In that respect, it's strictly public relations."