More than 2 percent of Connecticut drivers report getting behind the wheel after drinking "too much," according to the Centers for Disease Control, but Greenwich's numbers of drunk driving arrests are far lower than the state average, suggesting that many drunk drivers here may be getting away with it.
Across, the state, DUI arrest numbers vary widely from town to town.
Like Greenwich, Bridgeport charges very few people with drunk driving, according to state Uniform Crime Reporting Program data.
Darien arrests more drunk drivers than most other towns in the state.
Sgt. John Slusarz, who heads the Greenwich Police Department's traffic section, said the town's traffic team of four officers dedicated to enforcement and 10 others who work on crashes, has worked hard to reduce DUI-related car accidents.
"We've been very successful in reducing the frequency of crashes over the years, and DUI has a big part in it," Slusarz said this week.
A Hearst Connecticut Newspapers analysis of data reported in the state's Annual Report of Uniform Crime Reporting Program state data show that Greenwich made an average 5.5 DUI arrests per year for every 10,000 residents from 2010 through 2012, significantly lower than the state average of 23.1.
Slusarz said Greenwich's numbers are higher than what the state reports, with an average closer to 15.7 arrests for every 10,000 residents. That's still considerably lower than the state average though.
With 2.6 percent of Connecticut residents self-reporting that they drove "at least once after having too much to drink" in the month leading up to the CDC's 2010 survey -- only seven other states had a higher percentage -- police officers around the state would have to make 260 arrests a year for every 10,000 residents to keep up with the drunks.
The city of Bridgeport has the lowest arrest rate for drunk driving of all municipal agencies in Connecticut, according to the state data. It's arrest rate is 2.5 per year for every 10,000 residents.
Bridgeport Police Department spokesman William Kaempffer said that being the largest city in the state, there are many other issues in the city in addition to drunk drivers that cut into officers' time available for DUI enforcment.
"The statistics aren't where we'd like them to be yet," Kaempffer said. "This is something that we can and will do better with."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the small city of Naugatuck had an average arrest rate of 58.4 per 10,000 residents, the highest of all communities in Southwestern Connecticut. All told, the department made 179 arrests in 2012, according to state data. And that's a point of pride for the department.
"The philosophy here is we don't want drunk drivers on the road, and if they are on the road, we want to find them," said Lt. Bryan Cammarata.
While Naugatuck officers don't single-mindedly hunt down drunk drivers, Cammarata said he feels "if you're violating a motor-vehicle law, there's a better chance you're going to get caught in Naugatuck than in some of the other surrounding towns."
Greenwich's Slusarz said the department's open eyes and an understanding of what the community wants lead to large numbers of DUI arrests, an average of about two a week.
"Traffic concerns in Greenwich are big," he said.
That's why the town has a team of four officers dedicated specifically to traffic enforcement, along with 10 investigators who work on accidents, he said.
"The team is dedicated to reducing traffic crashes, specifically fatal and critical injury crashes," he said.
Keeping drunks off the road figures significantly into that, he said, even beyond safety to a level of public perception.
"We have a reputation. We're out here. We want you to drive safe and carefully and to do things the right way," he said. "Follow the rules. If you follow the rules, no problem. And if you don't, we're going to be there."
While higher arrest rates indicate areas in the state where drinking and driving is strictly enforced, it also signals something else: A lot of people are getting behind the wheel when they shouldn't.
"It's getting better, but not at the rate we would like. We shouldn't see one town with over 300 DUIs a year. That's crazy," said Joseph Cristalli, program coordinator for the State's Highway Safety Office. Hartford had more than 300 DUIs in the years covered in the data.
"We shouldn't be seeing it, but there are so many people who've gone undetected and the more work you put into putting officers out there, the more you're finding," Cristalli said.
Back in 1984, when Janice Heggie Margolis first launched the Connecticut chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there were 252 people killed in alcohol-related crashes across the state. By 2011, the number was reduced to 92, thanks in large part to education, but also to seatbelt laws and the invention of airbags.
"That tells me tons," Heggie Margolis said.
And a generation worth of education programs have helped shift the cultural attitude about drinking and driving into a social taboo, among both civilians and police, said Cristalli.
"Back in the 80s, a cop would say, 'Hey, that's Joe from down the street, so we're going to let him go.' It was a little more acceptable," he said. "It's not acceptable anymore. People aren't looking the other way. Now if they see Joe from down the street it's 'No, Joe. You're going to kill somebody.' It's different now."
That cultural shift has helped narrow the gap between incidents and enforcements, though it's not yet closed.
"Are we there yet? Nope," said Heggie Margolis. "But I do think that there have been major strides. I think that societal observations have changed. People are worried they're going to get caught in a sobriety checkpoint after a few drinks at dinner, so they're smarter about it."
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