TRAFFIC COURT ARRAIGNMENT PROGRAM
In 2006, as a Deputy City Attorney, I was tasked with implementing the Traffic Court Arraignment Program where Assistant City Attorneys and paralegals were hired and assigned to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court to negotiate plea agreements in traffic cases at the time of arraignments.
A Metropolitan Judge is assigned on a rotating basis to approve the plea agreements negotiated, and on any given day as many as 500 cases can be negotiated, resolved and approved by the Court.
When a person is stopped and issued traffic citations, the citing sworn officer determines if the driver will contest the citations and if the driver wants to contest the citations an arraignment date and time is immediately scheduled.
The Metropolitan Traffic arraignment program streamlined the process, saves time and money and negates the appearance of police officers at the arraignments.
There are upwards of 170 different traffic violation citations that can be issued by sworn law enforcement.
The most common traffic citations include speeding, reckless driving, careless driving, failing to stop, improper lane change, no registration, no insurance, suspended drivers license, failing to yield, and open container.
Fines for traffic citation carry civil penalties as low as $5.00 to as much as $1,000 in fines.
Failure to have insurance for example is a $1,000 fine.
The average Metropolitan Traffic Court arraignment case results in court fees and fines anywhere from $65 to upwards of $250.
APD PERSONNEL SHORTAGE
In 2009, there were 86,175 traffic arraignment cases in Metro Court and in 2015 traffic cases dropped to 31,163, or over 55,000 fewer traffic citations.
There is a direct correlation between the dramatic decline in the number of traffic citations and arraignments and the severe decline in APD personnel.
The number of APD sworn officers has fallen from 1,100 officers to 850 over the past seven years.
In 2009, APD had 1,100 police officers with approximately 700 assigned to field services, patrolling our streets over three shifts.
In 2009, APD had a traffic unit that had upwards of 40 patrol officers and today it is at less than 10.
Fewer APD sworn officers patrolling our streets results in fewer traffic citations.
Fewer cases results in fewer fines and it has a direct fiscal impact on court programs such as DWI education programs.
In 2015, APD has 841 sworn police officers with only 440 assigned to the field services patrolling responding to 69,000 priority one 911 emergency calls a year.
It takes an average of 15 minutes to dispatch a police officer to 911 emergency calls, which endangers public safety.
Based on review of the Metropolitan Court statistics, DWI arrest and traffic code enforcement are a very low priority of APD, not out of desire, but out of necessity.
With APD field officers responding to over 69,000 priority one calls a year, not to mention thousands of lower priority calls, it is surprising the statistics are not worse at Metropolitan Court.
APD can no longer be proactive traffic enforcement.
The net result is that Albuquerque streets are dangerous to drive.