By Jonathan L'Ecuyer
Hampton Union, Friday, August 6, 2004
HAMPTON — The patrol cars of the Hampton Police Department have a good amount of horsepower under the hood, but so do four officers on the force, whose partners gallop rather than run to the rescue.
Officers Andy Jowett, Tim Hamlen, Barry Newcomb and Joe Jones saddle up on their Tennessee walking horses, rather than sit down behind the wheels of their cruisers.
"I really enjoy it, it's a good break from being in a cruiser all winter," Hamlen said.
The four, specially trained officers work for the Hampton Mounted Patrol unit.
Their four-legged friends are also their partners three or four days a week. They are tall, bay (colored), Tennessee walking horses originating from Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and other southern states.
The oldest horse, working for the department since 1996, is 16-year-old Blaze. There is also Buddy, Sam and Patriot.
The unit's history is quickly approaching its silver anniversary; this year the unit will turn 23.
Starting in 1981, the now-retired Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier was the driving force behind bringing the unit to Hampton.
Pelletier said it started out as a concept mostly in response to crowd-control issues that plagued Hampton Beach in 1979 and 1980.
Pelletier was a sergeant at the time and proposed the idea to the then-Chief Robert Mark who approved of it.
The next step was gaining approval from the town manager and Board of Selectmen. Pelletier found success at the town level and began to campaign to raise funds in the private sector.
They rose $25,000 to form the horse patrol, which included buying the horses, training the officers, and acquiring materials to take care of the 5-feet-tall animals.
The horses weigh between 900 and 1,200 pounds.
Pelletier said the horses have been well cared for by the Shaw family since the unit began.
Wallace "Wally" Shaw built the horse barn at no cost to the police department or town. The stables sit next to the Tidewater Campground, which is owned by the Shaw's, on Lafayette Road at the intersection of Routes 1 and 101 in Hampton.
Now, the town only uses a small amount of money each year to keep the unit going.
Costs to the town include basic upkeep such as boarding, feeding and care.
"It's a small portion of the budget but very worthwhile," Pelletier said.
They're not Secretariat, but...
The horses that the Hampton Mounted Patrol use are specially selected from thousands of Tennessee walking horses from down South.
They have to be strong, healthy and well behaved.
It is essential that the horses have good temperament, Hampton Police Capt. Jamie Sullivan said."A lot of time goes into training the horses to prepare them for multiple types of situations like ... loud noises and people coming close to them," Sullivan said.
Pelletier said the horses are chosen in the South and then brought to Hampton by a Kentucky company for training.
All four horses have the ability to deal with the intense circumstances they may face while serving at the beach. "Bomb proof" is the term the patrol has come to use to describe the horses.
They can't have nasty habits or scare easily.
Each horse complements his rider perfectly and over time they grow to trust each other. Sam is the "spunky" one; Blaze is "dependable," Patriot is "loyal" and Buddy is just "easygoing."
Similar horses can be found with the other New Hampshire communities boasting a mounted unit; Manchester and Dover.
Public relations by day, crowd control by night ...
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."
Pelletier agrees it garners 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 said people feel comfortable approaching the officers on horseback.
The mounted police unit's slogan is "serving the community, supported by the community."
Sullivan said the unit's largest role is in having a relationship with the community.
"Folks love them, kids love them," Sullivan said.
Not just horsing around.
People walking along Ocean Boulevard oftentimes see the men on horseback and probably question why they are on horses rather than motorcycles or foot.
Officer Andy Jowett is a 12-year veteran of the Hampton Police force and is in his ninth year with the Mounted Patrol unit.
Jowett said that on weekend nights, all four horses are used. Other days two or three of the horses are used, but never fewer than two.
The horses are often used to disperse crowds, but Jowett said in an interview last year that "they create a crowd wherever they go."
The summer is a busy time for the beach and the Mounted Patrol unit helps control crowds during these months. The officers enjoy a special advantage of being able to see over a crowd. Their vantage point sitting at least five feet above everyone else allows them to see things other officers may not.
"The visibility factor is unbelievable," Pelletier said.
"They are good for different things at different times," Jowett said. "They are a PR unit until about 10 p.m."
At night the unit helps clear the way for fire and other emergency responders to do their job. Sometimes the unit has to move along the early-morning stumblers from their selected watering holes.
The Fourth of July was very busy this year, the unit didn't finish its shift that night until 3 a.m. Normally it would be done by about 1 a.m.
The horses are not only used on the Hampton boardwalk however, they are also used for ceremonial purposes.
"The last three or four years we have been using them a lot more," Jowett said.
He said the unit responded to a couple of the riots at the University of New Hampshire during the last school year as well as the swearing in of the controversial bishop at the Whittemore Center.
Capt. Sullivan said that because the town is operating on a default budget this year, many extra items had to be curtailed. Many of those items were ceremonial uses of the unit.
However, when one of their own is lost, they still show up.
New Durham Police Chief Douglas Scruton died a couple of weeks ago on July 25, the unit decided to appear at his funeral on July 29.