Waterford - Police Chief Murray J. Pendleton has been named 'Top Cop" by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his commitment to the transition of traffic safety initiatives in town and in the state.
He will be recognized by MADD today at its annual Law Enforcement Recognition Ceremony.
During the course of his more than 30-year relationship with the group, which strives to put an end to teenagers driving under the influence of alcohol, he admits that a traffic stop he made as a young police officer still sticks with him today.
"I began to think he had something to drink, his wife got out of the car and was crying, she was hysterical. She composed herself and said she would get him home, so I let her drive," Pendleton said last Wednesday. "And before I even got out of the patrol zone I got a call to respond to a scene of a crash, a car into a telephone pole. What happened was as soon as they went down the hill out of my sight, he made her pull over and switch. I said, 'That's the last time I'm going to do that.'"
When he started his career in Waterford in 1967, Pendleton said the stigma of driving under the influence wasn't as strong as it is today.
As he started his work with the Connecticut chapter of MADD in the mid-1980s, he said much of the work centered around publicizing how deadly driving under the influence can be and how to change the behavior of police officers when they pull over a driver suspected of being over the legal limit.
"It has gone through a transition over the past 30 years. There was a time, and it reminds me of domestic violence, as you go back 30 or 40 years when an officer would confront a drunk driver or a domestic situation, they would do something other than arrest them," Pendleton said. "They would take away their keys, call them a taxi or offer to drive them home. We got to a point where we recognized as a profession we weren't doing anybody any favors and things needed to change."
There has also been a change in the way local and state law enforcement detects, arrests and prosecutes drunken drivers, Pendleton said.
Waterford Alcohol and Drug Education (W.A.D.E.) was created to combat underage drinking and is made up of school coaches, school office and youth services staff as well as the first selectman.
Forty years of dedication to traffic safety initiatives including driving under the influence, speeding, seat belt enforcement and more recently, distracted driving, is what Pendleton said he believes earned him the Top Cop award.
He found out about the award earlier this month but does not know who nominated him.
Within the past year, Pendleton said a new initiative locally has focused on boating under the influence.
"From MADD's perspective, it's a statewide initiative. We've been able to link MADD and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is a big deal for training," he said. "For obvious reasons, that's a difficult process to deal with (making arrests on the water), but we're focusing on training for marine officers."
"Over all of this time, I've always been a part of a team. This is not an individual Bud Pendleton thing, sometimes I've been the pointperson or the lead instructor, but I've always been a part of a group," he said. "That's what we're all about, public safety, saving lives."