By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
The New Mexico State Police saw a significant increase statewide in drunken driving arrests from 2008 to 2009. And in eastern New Mexico, the jump was more dramatic.
The state’s ninth district, which includes Clovis, Portales, Tucumcari, Vaughn, Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa, Anton Chico, Corona, Newkirk and Conchas, saw a 107 percent increase in drunken driving arrests in 2009, according to numbers released Monday by the state police.
That is well in excess of statewide trends, in which the Department of Public Safety reported an 18.6 percent increase — 3,525 arrests in 2008, with a jump to 4,182 last year.
The Clovis area’s increase is not the largest. District Seven, the Espanola area, went from 136 arrests in 2008 to 362 in 2009, and District Six, the Gallup area, jumped from 407 arrests to 631, according to DPS statistics. Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Farmington-based districts saw drops in arrests, while Socorro, District 11, had 189 arrests in both years.
Officials with the state police attribute the increase to more checkpoints and a responsive enforcement group that changes coverage areas in accordance with complaints, accident reports and arrest locations.
Lt. Eric Garcia, a spokesman for the state police, said those aggressive efforts on driving while intoxicated have helped New Mexico drop from No. 7 in the nation in alcohol-related road fatalities in 2004 to No. 26 in 2009.
“We will continue to aggressively enforce the state’s DWI laws through a variety of ongoing operations. We remain committed to improve the quality of life for our residents as well as those who may be visiting New Mexico,” said Chief Faron W. Segotta of the state police in a press release.
In enforcement, for example, Garcia said there will be a reallocation of patrol officers if residents say drivers are swerving on the roads near their homes, and if patrols result in 20 arrests in the month, it would be worth the effort. The intent, Garcia said, is to get the numbers down, both in terms of arrests and accidents.
Garcia said he realizes the arrest increase in the Clovis/Portales district doesn’t mean there were half as many drunken drivers in 2008, and that there were drunken drivers who evaded law enforcement in 2009.
“Even if we increase our manpower 10-fold, we’re not going to be able to stop every (drunken driver),” Garcia said. “What’s going to help us is if people get the message that DWI incidents will not be tolerated. That goes from the judicial level to the community level.”