But Selectmen Hopeful for the Future
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, April 13, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Owners of Runnymede Farm made an unsuccessful last ditch effort to try and save the Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit last week by handing selectmen a petition signed by 200 residents to keep the two-horse unit intact.
"We got those signatures in two days," said Lori Davenport, one of owners of the North Hampton farm that has been taking care of the unit's horses, Butch and Arrow. "If I had two weeks, we would have had a ton more. People do not want to see this unit end."
While selectmen were impressed with the number of signatures on the petition, they said at their April 6 meeting that the decision has been made to adopt the horses out and disband the unit due to budget cuts. However, the board did leave open the possibility the unit could one day be re- established by a vote of the town.
"Even without the petition, it's something that should be considered," Selectman Richard Nichols said. "One of the things that made this hard was that voters voted to save the unit five years ago."
Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said disbanding the unit was one of toughest decisions he has had to make. It became a choice between "horseshoes in the street or boots on the street."
The unit was established in 1981 by former Hampton Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier as a way to respond to crowd control issues that had plagued Hampton Beach, including the riots of 1964.
Sullivan said the unit in the last year was more for show than active duty due to a lack of training for the horses and officers. To make the unit viable again, the chief said it would take an "infusion of dollars" the department doesn't have.
Nichols said there was talk of leaving some money in the budget to just barn and feed the horses for this year.
"But there were other issues beyond the financial aspect of it," said Nichols, who noted both officers in the unit are out on extended leave and one of the horses is nearing the end of his capability as a Mounted Patrol horse.
Selectman Richard Bateman said he is saddened to see the unit go. A special police officer with the department, Bateman was one of the officers who raised money to start the unit nearly three decades ago.
"It's been hard watching the unit slowly die over the years," he said.
He noted the unit — which once consisted of four horses — has become a shadow of what it once was.
The unit was sidelined in 2007 after all four Tennessee walking horses were found to be severely underweight at the place they were being housed. An equine specialist determined their rapid weight loss was the result of confusion over their feeding schedule.
The same year, the unit dwindled to two after two horses, Buddy and Blaze, were retired because of their ages and were not replaced due to budget constraints.
Sullivan said he will keep the unit's equipment in case selectmen want to reinstate the unit in the future.
Bateman said he would be one of the first to support a petition warrant article next year to re-establish the unit.
"I am absolutely positive that if this was left to the people of Hampton to decide, the unit will be re- established and reinvigorated next year."
Bateman said there is no better tool for crowd control at the beach than a horse.
"I look at is as an individual who has utilized the unit to break up brawls and fights and have seen how effective it is," he said. "Others look at the numbers and if it's cost effective. For the times that it stopped things dead in it tracks, the unit has more than paid for itself."
Davenport said she hopes the unit is resurrected.
"The town is losing the Mounted Patrol unit but we are losing two horses that have become a part of our family," Davenport said. "We want them to stay. They're good boys."