Last year Williamsburg residents voted to allow alcohol sales by the package and to make it easier for restaurants to sell alcohol by the drink, but the change hasn’t resulted in more alcohol related driving while under the influence arrests.
Chief Wayne Bird told the Williamsburg City Council during its monthly meeting Monday that Williamsburg police made 24 driving while under the influence arrests in 2016, which is down from past years. All but two of those DUI arrests were drug related.
“We are not seeing alcohol DUI’s,” Bird noted. “We have not seen an increase with package sales nor from sales in restaurants. I don’t think we have even logged a complaint in any establishment yet.”
Williamsburg police investigated 241 traffic accidents in 2016, including two fatalities. One of the fatalities was alcohol related and the other involved a medical issue.
Williamsburg police saw a 19 percent decrease in accidents with injury in 2016, which Bird attributes largely to increased speeding enforcement. Last year Williamsburg police officers issued 367 speeding citations.
Bird said that police will use some highway safety grant money to start a speeding enforcement campaign in the coming weeks.
“Anybody in the city that gets a speeding ticket, I apologize ahead of time but we need to slow down,” he added.
Williamsburg police wrote 562 tickets for failure to wear seatbelts in 2016. Seatbelt usage has increased greatly from 62 percent in 2015 to 84 percent in 2016. The national average is 88 percent.
Overall, Williamsburg police had 12,123 victim contacts last year, which includes everything from theft reports to motorist assists.
Williamsburg police arrested 1,107 people in 2016 for various offenses, which is a larger number than what police have seen in the past.
Bird noted that police are dealing with an increase in auto theft cases, which he admits used to be rarely seen, and an increase in vehicle pursuit and foot pursuit cases. He attributes these increases to spikes in crystal methamphetamine or “ice” cases.
All city police vehicles except the spare vehicle and the DARE truck are equipped with dash cameras.
“The cameras have been life savers for us,” Bird noted. “The cameras are a great asset.”
Councilwoman Laurel West asked if the city is considering placing dash cameras in the spare car and the DARE truck.
Mayor Roddy Harrison said that is being looked at and that several vehicles in the police fleet are scheduled to be replaced this year due to high mileage and increased maintenance issues.
Bird noted that the average active officer puts over 100 miles per shift on his police cruiser, especially third shift officers.
Harrison said that third shift officers have been asked to try and be seen on every city street during their shifts, which tend to have fewer calls.
Harrison and Bird said that serious thought is being given to replacing several of the police cars with four-wheel drive vehicles.
Bird noted that the department has a “no pursuit” policy in place for department issued SUVs, and that some agencies have even gone to a “no pursuit” policy period, which he doesn’t favor.
Williamsburg has a restricted pursuit policy department wide due to the danger of injury to officers, civilians and others.
During Monday’s meeting, the council also heard Williamsburg Fire Chief Larry Todd’s yearend report.
The Williamsburg Fire Department responded to 292 calls in 2016, including 26 fire calls, 28 motor vehicle collisions with injury, 12 motor vehicle collisions with no injuries, and 61 EMS assist calls.
Todd noted that he doesn’t like to send just two firefighters to provide lifting assistance for EMS because of the risk of injury that poses to firefighters, which would in turn increase workman’s comp costs.
In addition, the department provided mutual aid 13 times to surrounding fire departments, and received mutual aid twice from Woodbine Fire and Rescue for a water search for a possible missing vehicle that took place while Williamsburg’s boat motors were down.
Todd noted that the department used to have several volunteer firefighters, who hung around the fire department quite a bit and could go out and assist on runs during the day, but now most of the volunteer firefighters have day jobs.
“I have to depend on my paid guys to go on these runs,” Todd noted.
The number of firefighters on the department is down from 25 to 18 active firefighters. The department has five full-time fighters, including Todd, and three paid part-time firefighters.
The department has to have 13 firefighters in order to maintain state aid money, which increased from $8,250 to $11,000 in 2016.
Todd said that he will probably have to do a recruitment effort to get additional volunteer firefighters.
The fire department has to undergo numerous training hours each year. The department has to have 176 training hours annually in just rescue training to maintain its rescue certification, in addition to other training required annually.
“Both the chiefs run a great department,” Harrison noted.