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Thinking outside the DWI box; scrap the DWI unit

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier just held a press conference where he announced a stolen vehicle saturation patrol that netted 22 felony arrests and recovered 23 stolen vehicles. This was done by 40 APD officers over a four-day time period.

This is excellent work and the results were great. So why don’t we apply this type of thinking to the DWI issue?

Over the last 30 years I have seen a yearly report come out that states DWI conviction rates in Bernalillo County hover around 50 percent As soon as these reports are made public, the district attorney will immediately complain that the number one reason DWI cases are lost is that officers don’t show up for court. APD will then immediately reply that their DWI officers (around 10) make 95 percent of all DWI arrests and Metro Court schedules them to be in many courtrooms, all at the same time. APD always says it's impossible for an officer to be in more than one courtroom at one time.

The finger-pointing has gone on for over 30 years! It’s time someone does something different. How much of a deterrent is a 50 percent conviction rate? Not much. We can do better.

APD needs to take control of its own issue. Metro Court is not going to change. It is simply insane to continue doing the same thing over and over and expect something different to happen. Having a handful of officers making almost all of the DWI arrests and then having a conviction rate of 50 percent is failure. It’s not the officer’s fault, it is the police department's fault.

So I recommend applying the same strategy that was used for the stolen vehicle tactical plan to DWI enforcement. Have the Traffic Commander create a year-long plan where every Friday and Saturday night seven officers (one from each Area Command and SWAT / K9) are reassigned for one shift to do DWI saturation patrols. This would amount to 14 officers, every week being reassigned for one shift to strictly work on DWI enforcement. This would not impact 911 responses.

Computer models will tell them what part of town they should saturate for that night (high number of DWI accidents and arrests from the past). APD could even put up the flashing marques warning people that there is a DWI saturation patrol in progress. Even if it is not actually going on in that part of town, the marque itself will deter DWI drivers.

DWI is a misdemeanor, so there is nothing special about making a DWI arrest. All officers are certified in how to make a DWI arrest. A small special unit only serves the purposes of special interest lobby groups. And what has that resulted in? A horrible conviction rate that deters no one from driving drunk. It’s time to go in a different direction. Do away with the DWI unit. Spread DWI arrests to all uniformed officers. Doesn’t it make sense to have 500 officers making thousands of arrests with a conviction rate that is much higher because they appear in court, as compared with 10 officers doing 95 percent of all arrests and a conviction rate that is 50 percent because they can’t be in every courtroom?

This reassignment will only cause approximately two shift adjusts per officer per year. This would spread DWI enforcement to all officers and not just 10. Instead of a current DWI officer having a court docket with 10 cases at the same time (losing many of them because they are not in the courtroom), the workload would be spread around. This new way of thinking would spread the arrests to hundreds of officers and they may only have this one DWI case, therefore, assuring that the officer will be present in court.

When the officer is present convictions skyrocket, that is a fact.

What do we have to lose? Our conviction rate is horrible and has been for decades. It’s time to apply the same forward thinking that was just done with stolen cars to DWI enforcement.

Dan Klein is a retired APD sergeant.

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