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Chambersburg fights crime on horseback

March 13, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - When criminals strike in Chambersburg, borough police officers can mount an effort, and a horse, to catch the culprits.

Patrolman Robert Peterson, astride a white horse called Minuteman, leads the first mounted unit to patrol for the Chambersburg Police Department since the time when the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation.

Rounding out the unit is Yukon, the "backup horse."

Minuteman and Peterson already have begun patrolling in the downtown area.

Minuteman, at 17.2 hands, is big by horse standards. He's so tall that Peterson uses a stirrup extender to climb up to the saddle.

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Minuteman under proper tack and Peterson in his uniform of boots, riding breeches and helmet make an imposing picture, which is the image Police Chief Michael DeFrank said he wants to project.

"Downtown Chambersburg is changing. There's a gradual conversion from stores to businesses and offices, and that change will bring more people in, more visitors for recreation and to restaurants for lunch," DeFrank said.

"We need more of a police presence. People don't want to see police in cruisers," he said.

Peterson said the mounted patrol will act as "a deterrent and it adds a nice touch."

He said the horse acts as a magnet for youngsters.

"I had about 75 kids around me one day last week. They like the horse," he said. "They never came up to me when I was in my car. This is much more personal. Everyone who comes up to me says it's great."

There are those, however, who might find that an officer on horseback poses a problem.

"This is pretty intimidating for anyone who thinks he wants to run away from a police officer," Peterson said.

He said he stays mounted as he performs his duties, such as handing out traffic tickets. "I just reach down and hand it to them," he said.

Sitting high in the saddle gives him a better view of what's around him, he said.

"I think Chambersburg needs this," said William Gillan, of Chambersburg, who was standing at Memorial Square when Peterson rode by on Minuteman Wednesday morning.

Gillan said he's from Philadelphia, where police on horseback are a routine sight.

"This is the best thing they could have done. Horses keep people under control," he said.

Effielow Fleagle, co-owner of Karizma, a women's clothing store at 58 S. Main St., said the mounted unit makes the merchants feel safer. "And it's a positive image for the children," she said.

DeFrank said Minuteman was purchased from Pennsylvania State Police for $1. The horse had been in the state police unit for about three years and was well-trained when he came to the borough, he said.

Peterson said state police have up to 30 horses in their stable and they replace them as they get older.

At age 15, Minuteman should be able to provide 10 more good years of service, he said.

DeFrank said police horses are trained to be tolerant of noises such as sirens and gunfire, and are calm around smoke and fires and handle crowds well.

He said it will cost about $1,500 a year, including feed and board for the horses, veterinarian bills and other costs, to run the unit.

Peterson owns Yukon and is donating the horse's services to the borough, DeFrank said.

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