If you live in Albuquerque and drive the streets of Albuquerque for any length of time on any given day you will enjoy and experience of the unsafe and insane driving practices of Albuquerque drivers.
I have had visitors to Albuquerque ask me what is wrong with Albuquerque drivers?
I tell them it is a disease we call the “Burque Traffic Madness” and that some of us are just born with it, but you eventually catch it anyway.
It is common to be driving the streets of Albuquerque and see speeding, be cut off by another driver, see someone run a red light, watch drivers barrel through school zones, use corner businesses to drive into as a shortcut to avoid a red light, vehicles with cracked windshields or broken taillights, people using their cell phones while driving ignoring traffic in front or on the side of them, people driving without their seat belts on, drivers swerving in and out of lanes at high speeds and engaging in careless driving, driver’s looking in their rearview mirror checking out their teeth, hair or makeup, drivers yelling at each other in road rage or drivers being totally oblivious to pedestrians and people on bikes or motorcycles, drivers that are obviously in a haze or driving under the influence based on their weaving in and out of traffic, drivers that have been in a car accident patiently waiting lengthy periods of time for a police officer to show up to take an accident report, just to mention a few.
What you do not see very often at all are Albuquerque Police Officers (APD) making traffic stops, issuing citations and changing people’s driving habits by their sure presence on the road.
It seems that the only time you hear or see an APD mark unit on the streets of Albuquerque is when they are traveling far in excess of the speed limit with their red lights on and sirens blazing no doubt to get to the next violent crime scene.
If you think APD has no traffic patrols, you would be absolutely right when you look at the dramatic decline in traffic citations issued by APD.
TRAFFIC COURT ARRAIGNMENT PROGRAM
In 2006, the Metropolitan Traffic Court Arraignment Program was created by agreement of the City Attorney, the Bernalillo County District Attorney and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.
Despite the historical and designated role of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office as the chief law enforcement office for the prosecution of criminal cases, misdemeanor or felony cases, then Mayor Martin Chavez directed the City Attorney’s Office to organize, staff and participate in the traffic arraignment program.
A Metropolitan Judge is assigned on a rotating basis to approve the plea agreements negotiated.
The Metropolitan court provides a designated courtroom.
Assistant City Attorneys are cross deputized or appointed “special prosecutors” by the Bernalillo County District Attorney with the sole authority to negotiate plea agreements in traffic cases at the time of arraignments, thereby negating the needs for sworn APD personnel to appear at arraignments.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office employs 300 full time personnel which includes approximately 120 full time attorney positions, and has upwards of 20 Assistant District Attorneys assigned to the Metro Court, one for each judge.
However the District Attorney’s office does not designate any personnel to the traffic arraignment program.
Other than appointing Assistant City Attorney’s as special prosecutors, the Bernalillo County District Attorney provides virtually no funding, no personnel nor assistance to the traffic arraignment program.
The City Attorney has 59 full time personnel which includes 34 full time Assistant City Attorneys.
Two assistant City Attorneys and four paralegals are assigned to the traffic arraignment program to negotiate plea agreements and the City Attorney’s Office absorbs the personnel costs.
The rationale for the city attorney’s office to be involved traffic arraignments is twofold:
1. to provide a major accommodation to the Metropolitan Court
2. to eliminate the need of sworn APD officers to go to court for arraignments on traffic offenses.
Traffic cases are “officer prosecuted”, meaning sworn police officers on their own have to present the case to the court.
The traffic court arraignment program reduces police overtime where APD sworn personnel are entitled to a minimum of 2 hours of overtime charged at time and a half under the union contract.
HOW IT WORKS
When a person is stopped and issued traffic citation, 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 streamlines 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 driver’s license, failing to yield, and open container.
Fines for traffic citations 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.
DECLINE IN TRAFFIC CITATIONS
City Attorney statistics show a significant decrease in the number traffic citations being handled by the city.
On any given day, between 250 and as many as 500 cases can be negotiated, resolved and approved by the Metro Court.
In 2009, there were 86,75 traffic arraignment cases in Metro Court and in 2015 traffic cases dropped to 31,163, or over 55,000 fewer traffic citations.
In 2016, the total number of traffic cases going to arraignment and handled by the City Attorney’s office was 34,077. (2018-2019 proposed City of Albuquerque budget, page 113).
In 2017, the total number of traffic cases going to arraignment and handled by the City Attorney office was 28,643. (2018-2019 proposed City of Albuquerque budget, page 113).
Mid-year for the 2017-2018, 13,053 traffic cases went to arraignment and were handled by the city attorney’s office.
30,000 cases are projected for the new fiscal year 2018-2019 to be handled by the city attorney’s office.
TRAFFIC STOPS CAN BE DANGEROUS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT
When a police officer stops someone for traffic violations, such as speeding, running a red light, improper lane change, broken tail light, the police officer making the traffic stop takes the driver’s license of the driver, goes back to their patrol car and runs a criminal background check on the driver.
The police officer is able to determine within seconds whether or not there are any outstanding arrest warrants, bench warrants and felony convictions.
The police officer also looks up the driver’s vehicle registration and vehicle identification number (VIN) to determine if the vehicle stopped is a stolen vehicle.
Simple traffic stops can be extremely dangerous and result in law enforcement being killed as anyone who has lived in Albuquerque for any length of time knows full well with the killing of APD Police Officer Daniel Webster and the shooting of APD Police Officer Police Lou Golson.
APD SWORN PERSONNEL SHORTAGE
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 eight 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.
Compounding the decline in the number of traffic citations is the fact that the “red light” camera program was abolished seven years ago.
The “red light” camera program was highly effective in reducing the number of traffic accidents at major intersections, but it was highly controversial, angered too many voters which resulted in its demise and the New Mexico legislature got involved.
Fewer cases results in fewer fines and it has a direct fiscal impact on court programs such as DWI education programs.
At the beginning of 2018, APD has 878 sworn police officers with only 435 assigned to the field services patrolling and 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 statistics, traffic code enforcement is 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 and we all will be subject to becoming the victims of “Burque Traffic Madness” unless we get more cops patrolling our streets.
Until then, if you suffer from “Burque Traffic Madness” please get the hell off the roads until you are cured of it.