The Albuquerque Journal did a front-page story on the dramatic decline in the number of DWI seizures and the revenues from those seizures.
(See October 18,2017 Albuquerque Journal, Page A-1, City’s DWI vehicle seizures plummet; Revenue from controversial program now about $600K, compared with $1.8 M in 201)
In a nutshell, the number of DWI vehicle seizures by the city has gone from 1,976 generating $1.81 million in 2010 to less than half the seizures of 778 generating $598,000.
The Journal reports that number of DWI cases filed in Metro Court has gone from, 4,219 in 2013 to 2,397 in 2016.
The DWI vehicle forfeiture program is very controversial to say the least and is the subject of a federal lawsuit seeking to put an end to the program.
All the candidates who ran for Mayor have said they would get rid of the program, which would be a mistake.
Many people argue that the program should not be generating money for the city.
Notwithstanding, the biggest benefit of the program is getting vehicles out of the hands of repeat DWI offenders and off our streets.
A vehicle driven by a drunk becomes a weapon endangering lives.
But the number of DWI arrests and vehicle seizures is only part of our problem.
Simply put, it is not safe to drive the streets of Albuquerque.
The statistics from the Bernalillo County Metro Court are alarming and reveal just how bad things are with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) being unable to patrol our streets, get drunks off the road, make DWI arrests and issue traffic citations and prosecute cases.
THE WHOLE STORY
In 2008, there were 633 felony DWI arraignments and the number steadily declined each year to 104 in 2015.
In 2008, there were 6,538 DWI/DUI misdemeanor arraignments and the number steadily declined each year to 2,942 in 2015.
In 2008, there were 84,527 traffic court arraignments and the number steadily declined each year to 31,163 in 2015.
According to the City of Albuquerque 2017 budget, the Albuquerque Police Department made more than 2,200 DWI arrests a few years ago.
In contrast, APD made only made 775 DWI arrests in the first six months of the current budget year.
In otherwords, DWI arrests are down around 30 percent.
A decade ago, APD was making more than 5,000 DWI arrests a year.
The Bernalillo County Metropolitan court handles cases for virtually all law enforcement agencies that make arrests in Bernalillo County, including the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department (BCSO) and the New Mexico State Police.
The largest percentage of cases arraigned in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan court is for APD cases.
In 2009, there were 746 people arraigned for felony DWI and that number dropped to a mere 104 in 2015.
In 2008, there were 6,538 people arraigned for misdemeanor DWI and in 2015 that number dropped by close to 60% to 2,942.
First, second and third DWI offense convictions are misdemeanors, and depending on the number of the conviction, carry penalties of between 6 months to 3 years license revocation, 90 to 364 days in jail, $500 to $1,000 fine, up to 5 years’ probation, and may include other mandatory penalties such as alcohol evaluation, DWI school, community service, treatment, and ignition interlock for 2 years.
Fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or subsequent DWI convictions are felonies and depending on the conviction number, carry penalties of lifetime license revocation, 6 months mandatory prison time up to 3 years in prison, up to a $5,000 fine, mandatory alcohol evaluation, and lifetime interlock.
Aggravated DWI is where a person’s breath alcohol test is above a .16 BAC (breathalyzer), or there is a refusal to take the BAC test or if bodily injury while driving while intoxicated is caused, with mandatory jail time of 2 days for the first offense, 4 days in jail for second offense and 60 days in jail for the third offense.
The silence by the press and anti-DWI advocates is deafening given the serious drop in DWI arraignments and convictions.
DRAMATIC DECLINE IN TRAFFIC ARRAIGNMENT CASES
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.
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.
Fewer cases results in fewer fines and it has a direct fiscal impact on court programs such as DWI education programs.
NEW MEXICO HAS SECOND WORST DRIVERS IN US AND A DRINKING PROBLEM
In November 2015, it was reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety found that New Mexico had the second-worst drivers in the country, according to a car-insurance comparison group.
(For full story see November 27, 2015 Albuquerque Journal article “New Mexico Drivers second worse in the country, https://www.abqjournal.com/682511/new-mexico-drivers-secondworst-in-us.html)
No doubt the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court statistics contributed significantly to the statistics because it is the largest and busiest court in the state and in the largest city in New Mexico.
The study ranked states based on fatalities per miles driven, speeding, drunken driving, careless driving, and other moving citations per capita, according to the Albuquerque Journal article.
According to the study, New Mexico ranked fifth for the most careless driving cases, 10th for the most drunken driving arrests, 17th in traffic fatalities, 12th for speeding and 16th for other types of citations.
APD STAFFING SHORTAGE
In 2010, the APD traffic unit had more than 34 officers and today there are less than 12.
There is a direct correlation with the dramatic decline in the number of DWI arrests and arraignments and traffic arrangement cases and the severe decline in APD personnel.
The December 11, 2015 Albuquerque Police Department Comprehensive Staffing Assessment and Resource Study prepared by Alexander Weiss for the Department of Justice concluded that APD needs at least 1,000 sworn officers.
The Weiss report concluded that 1,000 sworn police officers were sufficient for Albuquerque provided that APD officers did not respond to certain low priority calls such as minor traffic accidents or false alarm calls.
In 2009, APD had 1,100 police officers with approximately 700 assigned to field services, patrolling our streets over three shifts.
Eight (8) years ago, response times were at 8.5 minutes, below the national average.
In 2009, APD command staff recommended that Albuquerque needed at least 1,200 sworn officers for community based policing and felony prosecutions.
The number of APD sworn officers has fallen from 1,100 officers to 850 over the past seven years.
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.
Today, in 2017, APD employs 836 sworn police officers with 430 assigned to the field services, divided into three shifts, to patrol the streets and take Priority 1 calls
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 with DWI and traffic enforcement.
The net result is that Albuquerque streets are dangerous to drive.