OLD LYME — At least one call for trespassing on private beach property, a few calls for drinking on the beach, a few more for lewd behavior, and maybe an abandoned car on the side of the road – that’s a typical summer day for the six police officers and State Trooper assigned to Old Lyme.
“There were a lot of arrests on the beach this past year,” said State Trooper and acting Chief of Police of Old Lyme, Greg Hunter. “I stay down at the beach to make people think about it, even an empty police car helps.”
According to Hunter, for nine months of the year Old Lyme is a pretty easy town for a police officer – the young people are well-behaved, hardly anyone is cited for speeding and the most common calls are for nuisances, like the location of a neighbor’s trash bin.
In the summer that all changes, as the town grows from about 7,500 to over 12,000 residents and Old Lyme’s historic beach communities fill up. Thousands more come to the region from surrounding town to enjoy the beach.
But beach access is limited. Only one small section of beach is public in Old Lyme, the rest – at least above the high waterline – is owned by private residents and beach communities. That causes tension.
“Every day I get at least one call for people walking on someone’s private beach property,” Hunter said.
Hunter said he always tries to defuse tension. Often beachgoers don’t realize the entire beach isn’t public property, and homeowners facing trespassers on a daily basis can get far more upset than people understand.
“I’d prefer the property owner go talk to the person instead of calling me because people always get scared when I show up. The uniform, the car, it scares people,” Hunter said. “But I give a lot of breaks as long as people are nice. They need to understand how to be nice to each other.”
Going into the summer season, especially while schools are still in session, Hunter said the biggest concern for his station is drunk drivers. Although alcohol is prohibited on the beach, beachgoers routinely ignore the law, and with a day of drinking and sun, the drive home doesn’t always go smoothly.
According to Superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Ian Neviaser, drunk drivers have never been an issue for the school, buses or students. But Hunter said he worried about beachgoers and school traffic sharing the road. “We have drunk drivers during the day and even in the afternoon. It’s scary while kids are coming home from school,” Hunter said. If a drunk driver is pulled over in Old Lyme they will be arrested immediately.
The problem is worse at 5 p.m. when local bars shut down for a two-hour break. Everyone who has been drinking now either drives home or goes back out on the beach – either way it often doesn’t end well.
“If you come down here between 5 and 6 p.m. on a Saturday the view of humanity is incredible, you can just watch small misunderstandings escalate,” Hunter said. That’s why this summer a police officer will be on site at the beach every evening.
According to Hunter, with a staff of seven, the summer surge really isn’t a problem. It’s just the busy season. But if necessary, the State Trooper Barracks in Westbrook can send someone over very quickly to help.