WESTERLY — A targeted beach enforcement focused on alcohol violations netted 422 infractions between Memorial Day and Labor Day in what police described as a steady but otherwise uneventful summer season.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said Monday that the annual enforcement, which this year included weekly patrols by a rotating team of two officers, was largely a success even though the numbers saw only a slight decline when compared to 2020. Police issued a record 437 alcohol violations last year.
“All in all, there were a steady number of tickets issued, but I wouldn’t say it’s unusual or shows any sort of problem,” said Lacey, who noted that changes in the program increased the number of patrol shifts while simultaneously decreasing the number of officers working per shift.
During the 2021 enforcement, Westerly police records show that the department issued 350 tickets to adults found to be drinking alcohol in public; 36 tickets to those ages 18 to 21; and 36 infractions were issued to minors in possession of alcohol.
Under Rhode Island statutes, possession of alcohol by a minor carries a minimum penalty of a $200 court-ordered contribution to a charitable organization, 20 hours of community service, and a 60-day loss of license for first offenders. Consumption of alcohol in public carries a minimum fine of $85 in Rhode Island and fines of $100 through the Westerly Municipal Court.
Lacey said the goal of the program was not to catch people red-handed necessarily, but to encourage adherence to the rules by ticketing those openly displaying that they were drinking, such as handing out labeled bottles and/or cans from an open cooler. He said patrols, which operated in plain clothes, were directed to only look for easily visible violations.
The number of citations fell just 15 short of the record 437 issued in 2020, the result of targeted efforts that aimed to address problem areas along the Misquamicut shoreline and to encourage those who would like to drink to do so in the designated zones now dedicated to that purpose, the police said.
Despite the similar numbers, Lacey said there was a stark difference in behavior with far more people compliant in 2021.
“There were no major problems, and for the most part people who were found in violation were cooperative,” he said. “Although the numbers are higher, it is considerably different when you look at all the restrictions that were in place a year ago.”
A late start due to the pandemic and capacity restrictions were of little help in July 2020, when many sought outdoor activities as COVID-safe options. Police classified the start of last season as “a complete mess” in Misquamicut, with parking and drinking both significant issues. Restrictions of 25% and 50% capacity at times also meant fewer people were granted access, but Lacey said that did not cause any reduction in violations.
Over the course of summer 2020, the department used a combination of budgeted funds and grant money to conduct seven weeks of total enforcement, which caused pauses in the targeted enforcement. That changed this year, when patrols were reduced from four officers to two positions that rotated officers and focused on alcohol enforcement Monday through Friday. The time of daily enforcement changes, and occasional weekend shifts were also used, Lacey said.
Moving forward, Lacey said he anticipates seeing the beach enforcement effort continue. While the goal is 100% compliance, he said there are always those who ignore the signs and other warnings. He said the agency would continue to monitor and conduct the enforcement annually as a proactive, preventative measure to reduce drunk driving and other offenses related to alcohol consumption.
“It’s never going to fully stop, but if we can prevent any significant incidents or issues, then it is worth it,” Lacey said.