Capt. Kevin Chabot of the Wells Police Department says that the town has seen a significant increase in OUI arrests this year. In July, 20 people were charged, a single-month record since at least 2016. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Just after 10 p.m. on a Thursday in July, Wells police stopped a driver from Massachusetts on Route 1, the busiest road through town. He was arrested for operating under the influence.

The next night, a woman from Massachusetts was arrested for the same thing on Branch Road. The following Wednesday, a Wells man was charged with OUI after driving his moped erratically down Route 1 and into a restaurant parking lot.

In July alone, Wells police charged 20 people with operating under the influence, a single-month record for the department since at least 2016.

The number of OUI arrests also has jumped dramatically in other southern Maine communities, a trend public safety officials say is disturbing and frustrating – especially at a time when calls for service are on the rise – and it all traces back to the pandemic.

“We went into this COVID lull where everyone was staying inside and crime was down. For all the bad things that COVID was, it did reduce crime,” said Wells police Capt. Kevin Chabot. “Now we’re back to normal and back with a vengeance.”

Not all police departments are seeing similar increases in numbers, largely because staffing shortages don’t allow for special details to catch drivers impaired by alcohol, cannabis or illegal drugs.


“It’s a problem in every town. Not every town has the resources to combat such a large problem,” said York police Sgt. Brian McNeice, who coordinates a regional team to enforce impaired driving laws.


Wells police have been busy this year responding to an overall increase in crime and service calls, but the jump in OUI arrests stands out. The department recorded 69 OUI arrests through August – 24 more than all of last year. Half of this year’s arrests came in June and July, when the town population swells to more than 35,000.

In a tourist community, it seems people on vacation are “prone to drink and go out and enjoy themselves,” Chabot said. But it’s not just out-of-towners.

“Folks have been cooped up in the house for the past couple years and now they’re out and taking more chances with drinking and driving,” he said.

Corey Huntress, Saco’s deputy police chief, has been thinking along the same lines. Officers have noticed more aggressive driving. But what’s more disturbing, Saco is reporting a 150 percent increase in OUI arrests this year.


When York police saw that same exact percentage spike in OUI arrests last year, the department added extra shifts for OUI enforcement. This year, those arrests are trending closer to normal, but are still a significant problem, Chief Owen Davis said.

“It’s a problem 24 hours a day, not strictly at nighttime,” he said. “We’re not only seeing operators who are impacted by alcohol but by illegal narcotics and some prescription medications.”


South Portland police try to focus on drivers under the influence and make around 100 arrests each year, said Officer Jessica Ramsay, a drug recognition expert who usually is responsible for just under a third of them.

But this year those numbers are lower because of staffing issues similar to those in York.

“Unfortunately for us, our call volume has increased exponentially. We only have so many officers on the road and so many who can focus on traffic,” she said. “A lot of our shifts are going from one call to the next.”


The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols 14 communities, has made 11 percent fewer OUI arrests this year than it did in 2021, but – as in other places – drawing conclusions about that is tricky, Capt. Kerry Joyce said.

“For us, it’s just been an overwhelming year because everyone is coming back from COVID,” he said.

Joyce spoke of officers fielding calls on domestic violence and disturbances, of frequent 911 hang-up calls that draw officers off patrol.

“We’re so busy it’s hard to conduct OUI enforcement,” he said.


In York County, the sheriff’s department and most municipal police departments participate in the Regional Impaired Driving Enforcement, or RIDE, Team. The grant-funded team does both saturation patrols, where 14 or 15 officers will be out in an area at the same time, and sobriety checkpoints to try to catch intoxicated drivers, said McNeice, the York sergeant who coordinates the team.


On Aug. 13, the RIDE Team held a sobriety checkpoint on Fletcher Road in Kennebunkport, stopping each car that came through to check the driver for signs of impairment. Between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m., 801 cars passed through the checkpoint and six drivers were arrested for operating under the influence.

Police officials say this type of regional approach is especially important at a time when many police departments are not fully staffed.

“Everyone is trying to fill their open positions,” McNeice said. “In the meantime, people don’t have as much time to work these details for enforcement as much. But the problem is still out there.”

Like other local departments, Saco police use grants to patrol target areas where people are most likely to be caught driving under the influence. This year, the department also is focusing on education and reminding drivers about the danger of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

The police department and Saco’s communications department recently partnered with the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety to produce a video reminding people about the danger of driving under the influence. It’s a message Huntress hopes people take to heart.

“Any time you get behind the wheel and you’re impaired, you’re not only putting your life in jeopardy, but you’re putting other people’s lives in jeopardy,” he said. “You see the carnage and destruction left behind.”



In parts of southern Maine where rideshare services are easily accessible, police officers who do traffic enforcement have noticed more people choosing to get rides when they’ve been out drinking.

In Kennebunk, the number of OUI arrests and complaints about suspected drunken driving called into the dispatch center has held steady over the past four years, said Sgt. Kevin Schoff. He believes people in that area have been taking advantage of rideshare services, including a local business called RideMaine that uses electric vehicles.

“I do think that since rideshare, Uber, Lyft and those types of services have been offered, the amount of impaired driving has been positively influenced whether we see the results in arrests or not,” Schoff said.

Sgt. Andrew Flynn of the Scarborough Police Department also has noticed more people taking Uber or Lyft rides. When he pulls over a rideshare driver and notices a passenger who is intoxicated, he thanks the passenger for choosing not to drive.

Flynn, who frequently participates in OUI enforcement details, likes to bring that kind of personal interaction to every traffic stop. Telling people exactly why you pulled them over – crossing a lane divider, for example – goes a long way toward helping them understand how and why police are enforcing OUI laws.

“The big thing for people to realize is we are taking it seriously and we’re out proactively enforcing it,” Flynn said. “In a perfect world, I’d like to go out there and stop 100 cars and make no arrests because everyone is following the law.”

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