The number of people being arrested for driving while intoxicated throughout Valencia County went down last year.
Bosque Farms experienced a 50 percent decrease in DWI arrests last year compared to the year before. In 2001, officers there arrested 60 people on suspicion of drinking and driving. Police arrested 121 people the year before.
Chief Louis Burkhard said the decrease is due to the increase in community awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.
“People are a little more leery to get into a car and drive intoxicated,” Burkhard said. “It means the programs out there are working. It’s definitely not because of a lack of effort.”
The police chief said his officers are out in force patrolling and handing out citations. The number of traffic stops in Bosque Farms increased from the year before, Burkhard said.
“We have also increased the number of citations given last year,” Burkhard said. “So, it’s not because we’re not out there, we are. We’re actively participating in Superblitz, performing saturation patrols and conducting road blocks.”
The Valencia County Sheriff’s Department also saw a 48 percent decrease in the number of DWI arrests last year. In 2001, deputies arrested 134 people on suspicion of drinking and driving, while 256 people were arrested in 2000.
“I’ve been here for 30 years in law enforcement, not necessarily in the sheriff’s office, but all my law enforcement career has been in this county,” said Sheriff Juan Julian. “We’ve never really solved the problem of DWIs. What we’ve really done is move it around.”
Julian said when an agency actively saturates certain areas for DWI, the
offenders simply move to another jurisdiction. “I think visibility has a lot to do with DWI arrests that we’ve had in the county,” Julian said.
The sheriff also credits the decrease to driver awareness and education. “The penalties are more serious than they used to be,” Julian said. “People are really being conscientious when it comes to drinking and driving.
“If people are going to drive drunk in Valencia County, they will be arrested and prosecuted to the limit of the law,” he said. Julian said 90 percent of the people arrested by his deputies are convicted.
“I think that has a lot to say about the officers following through with the case from the beginning to the end,” Julian said.
The Los Lunas Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the county who had about the same number of DWI arrests last year compared to the year before. In 2001, officers arrested 121 people for driving while intoxicated — three less than the year before.
“The consistency in the numbers has to do with the help we get from DWI grants from the state,” said Los Lunas Police Chief Nick Balido. “We’ll run saturation patrols once a month and road blocks at least every other month.”
Balido said his officers are always on the lookout for DWI offenders who may be on the streets in Los Lunas. “We’re going to continue working every aspect of DWIs, including speed enforcement, seatbelt use and traffic violations,” he said. “You have to stay on top of it because, if you don’t, you’re going to have some real serious problems.”
The Belen Police Department was the only law enforcement agency in the county who saw an increase in DWI arrests. Officers arrested 87 suspected DWI offenders in 2001 and 73 in 2000.
Belen Police Chief Paul Skotchdopole said the 19 percent increase is due to the officer’s commitment to the problem.
“Your chances of being caught driving drunk out there are pretty good in Belen,” he said. “I think that reflects that the officers in the department are taking this threat very seriously, and they’re responding to it in the appropriate way,”
Skotchdopole also said the department has been awarded more grant money this year from the state for more saturation patrols and checkpoints.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.