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Darien Conducts First-Ever DUI Checkpoint

Seven were arrested on charges of driving under the influence, while others had their vehicles towed over missing or expired documentation.

"Good evening. Sobriety checkpoint."

Police repeated that greeting to scores of drivers passing along Post Road Saturday night and Sunday morning, as Darien held its first-ever DUI checkpoint.

Stationed between the parking lots of the HSBC bank and the shuttered Cookhouse Restaurant, officers from the Darien and Stamford police departments stopped drivers over the course of three and a half hours, conducting brief interviews and looking for signs of intoxication.

"What we'll end up doing is asking three to four questions: where you're coming from, where you're going, how much you had to drink tonight," Marron said Saturday night. "Fourth question, if need be: we ask if they have a driver's license."

Marron added that, as established in past court decisions, officers were only allowed to ask those four questions upfront to guard against violating drivers' legal rights.

"[But] if it turns out they've admitted to drinking, or it seems to us that they've been drinking, we pull them into one of the lots and continue the interview," Marron said.

There, officers administered field sobriety tests, instructing stopped drivers to follow a finger with their eyes, lift one leg up for several seconds, and walk a straight line. Those who failed were charged and taken to Stamford or Darien police headquarters.

Police made five DUI arrests at the checkpoint—4 by Darien officers, 1 by Stamford police—and towed the vehicles of several other drivers who were found lacking a license or proper paperwork.

According to Darien's Lt. Don Anderson, one screening required police to call in an officer from Stamford to translate for a Polish-speaking driver. He was ultimately handcuffed and taken away in a cruiser.

Two other DUI arrests were made overnight by Darien officers at locations other than the checkpoints, Marron added. By midday, all seven people hit with the charge had posted bond, typically set around $250.

The evening represented a milestone for Darien, which had never before conducted a DUI stop. In January, the police department received a $46,000 state grant for drunk driving enforcement. 

Officers had an initial chance learn the ropes in March, when they joined police at a checkpoint in Stamford. Plans were also laid for one in Darien in April, but driving rain shifted the location to an underpass in Stamford, making this the town's inaugural effort.

Saturday's checkpoint was abuzz with activity from about 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. the next morning, with officers, drivers, passengers, bystanders, and tow truck operators circulating around the roadway and surrounding lots.

Authorities set up cones and signage around a wide swath in the middle of the road, narrowing traffic down to one lane in each direction and allowing officers to flag passing cars down by hand. The scene was lit by floodlights from the Darien department's Truck 1 and lamps running off of gas-powered generators.

Among other requirements, police were obligated by law to post advance warning of the checkpoint in either direction and to provide a turn-off point before drivers were forced into the coned area.

"Our cone patterns, our generators, our stop signs, our placement and positioning in the road has all been approved ahead of time by the state's attorney's office, just so there's no question," Marron said. "We don't want to waste all this effort and the state's money to find out that we didn't dot our 'i's and cross our 't's."

Most of the officers on the scene were at least 10-year veterans of the force and had been to a number of different specialty schools, giving them a firm grounding in DUI enforcement. Police were also on the lookout for drivers under the influence of marijuana and PCP.

"The goal here is, number one, prevention; number two, awareness; and number three, to keep the roads safe," Marron said. He added that enforcement efforts such as Saturday's checkpoint were having an appreciable impact on drunk driving behaviors.

"The whole campaign—not just here, but nationwide—has, I think, made a difference as well. It's not as socially accepted to be driving under the influence, and I think people have plans in place to not do that," Marron said.

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Correction: A previous version of this article quoted a spokesman saying that Darien police made six DUI arrests at the checkpoint. The actual number, as police later told Patch, was four. Patch regrets the error.

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