Published January 15. 2013 4:00AM
Stonington - Just seven years ago, police here boasted 226 drunken-driving arrests in a single year, more than those of several local police departments combined.
And it wasn't just a one-year anomaly. Over a five-year period from 2004 to 2008, Stonington police averaged 212 DWI arrests annually. It was not uncommon for police to make three DWI arrests in a single weekend night.
The message to drivers was clear - don't drink and drive in Stonington.
But in 2102, after three years of steady decreases, drunken-driving arrests dipped to a low of 57.
But if anyone thinks officers have backed off their enforcement, they would be wrong, according to Police Chief J. Darren Stewart, who called the big drop a good thing.
In addition to the town's well-earned reputation for arresting drunken drivers, Stewart said, other factors have played a role in the decrease, such as the decline in the economy, which has led to fewer people going out on weekend nights. In addition, police issued 974 motor vehicle summonses, one-fourth of what they wrote just a few years ago.
"People just aren't going out as much," he said. "You don't see as many people out late anymore."
Stewart said that if large numbers of people were still drinking and driving but enforcement was down, police would be seeing an increase in accidents with injuries.
But the department reported just 86 injury-causing accidents in 2102, the second-smallest number in the past dozen years. Just 92 people were injured in those crashes, 29 fewer than in 2011 and half the number injured in 2001.
In all there were 660 accidents, 127 fewer than in 2005, when the department set its record of 226 DWI arrests. And there were no fatalities in 2012.
But if people do drink and drive here, Stewart said, officers will be out looking for them.
"If you're doing something wrong, we will catch you," he said.
Stewart said that officers responded in 2012 to more miscellaneous calls, 10,673, than ever before. Of that number 1,877 were medical calls.
With a number of facilities that care for or house the elderly in town as well as an aging population, Stewart said, medical calls average about six to seven a day. He said some of those calls can be time-consuming.
"Many of the letters of thanks we get are from people we help with medical issues," he said. "We take great pride in helping the community out in that way."
Despite the increase in calls, Stewart is not asking to increase the number of officers from 36 in the upcoming 2103-14 budget. He does plan to ask for an additional $100,000 to increase the police presence in the schools.
Police also reported 1,869 criminal offenses in 2012, more than 200 fewer than in 2011. Despite the overall decrease, burglaries increased from 62 to 83 and larcenies went up from 423 to 439.
Police also made 596 arrests, two fewer than in 2011 and the smallest number in a dozen years. A portion of the decrease resulted from the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.