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Officials announce DWI crackdown

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By Don Pace

Police from Las Vegas and throughout New Mexico are giving drunken drivers fair warning as they announced their newest initiative.

They are launching the kickoff of the Winter Enforcement Campaign and Holiday DWI Super blitz. Checkpoints and intense enforcement measures have already begun and will continue through Jan. 4, officials said.

Robert Archuleta, an official with the state Department of Transportation Traffic Safety Bureau, said at a local press conference last week that the Las Vegas Police Department now has six mounted video cameras in their cars, which will assist officers during DWI arrests and prosecutors in court.

State DWI Czar Rachel O’Connor said the state this year will be working with 65 law enforcement agencies around New Mexico, including all the law enforcement agencies in Las Vegas to get the message out to drunken drivers.

“If you drink and drive in this county or in the state, you will be caught and there will be consequences to your behavior,” she said.

O’Connor told the crowd that there have been several initiatives in the last few years aimed at reducing drunk driving.

“We’ve increased the number of checkpoints and saturation patrols through the super blitz program that are enforcing the laws 24 hours a day,” O’Connor said.

The DWI czar noted that there are a lot of local initiatives to increase public awareness of the consequences of drunken driving.

“One thing I think that is important to this community is liquor control — how do we serve patrons, where do we have liquor licenses, what are the consequences of over-serving people who have already had to much to drink, as well as serving under-age minors,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said this is the first year the state is revoking liquor licenses of bars and restaurants that continue to serve irresponsibly.

“We are encouraging all of you to join with us in passing on the message that responsible service is important to reducing DWI in New Mexico,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor also introduced a new program called “The Storm is Coming” that reminds drivers that winter driving can be dangerous. The campaign warns that officers across the state will conduct checkpoints and intense enforcement looking for drunken drivers, speeders, drivers with suspended or revoked licenses, those not buckled up, and unrestrained children. Posters and fliers advise, “Don’t get caught in The Storm. Drive safely.”

O’Connor said even one fatality is too many. She said that when efforts to combat DWI increased five years ago, there were 220 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2004. She said this year her office estimates that the number of fatalities will be down to about 150, which is significant progress.

Las Vegas Police Chief Gary Gold told the audience that the newly installed video cameras in patrol cars, provided by the Department of Transportation, would go a long way in helping prosecute drunken drivers in San Miguel County.

“With these new cameras and working with the state police and sheriff’s departments in Mora and San Miguel, we will work to stop the DWI problem in this area and will do the best we can to serve out community,” Gold said.

San Miguel County DWI prevention coordinator Wendy Armijo said, “At one time, San Miguel County was ranked number one in the nation for alcohol-related crashes and fatalities. Through the work of the DWI program and the efforts of all the agencies involved, we are currently ranked at number 13, so we’ve made significant progress.”

Armijo said her office offers many services in the community aimed at saving lives. Some of those services include additional funding for DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols, underage drinking operatives, video cameras in police vehicles, prevention programs, prosecutions, education and treatment.

“We also have a safe ride program that operates Thursday through Saturday night. So, there’s definitely an alternative to getting behind the wheel after drinking,” Armijo said.