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Farmington Police Department expects 5-year high in DUI arrests

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Farmington Police Department is on track to make a record number of drunken driving arrests in 2014.

Farmington police officers have made 550 arrests for driving while under the influence so far in 2014, according to data provided by the department. In 2011, the department made 653 DWI arrests, the highest number of arrests in the past four years.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said the department is on track to finish out the year at about 730 arrests. He attributed the increased number of arrests to better officer training and a recent spike in 911 calls from citizens reporting suspected drunken drivers.

Farmington traffic Sgt. David Karst said that local dispatchers received almost 300 calls in August from citizens reporting suspected drunk drivers, a "significantly higher" number of calls than in previous months.

"I think (the number of arrests) is going to keep climbing," Karst said. "I think we are going to surpass last year's numbers significantly and I expect in 2015 we can reach over 1,000 arrests."

Hebbe said in August that lowering the number of alcohol-related traffic crashes in the county is a priority for his department.

The department is urging residents who witness erratic driving to report the incident to 911, not the New Mexico Drunk Busters hotline at #DWI. The department is also asking residents to stay on the line with dispatchers, if it is safe, so that dispatched officers can be kept informed about the suspected vehicle's whereabouts.

"A five-minute delay can be a 15-mile difference," Karst said. "It doesn't do us a lot of good."

Karst said that increased officer training and awareness is also having an impact.

He said that 13 Farmington traffic officers have recently received training to become "drug recognition experts," so that they can better identify the signs that a driver is drug impaired.

"There is just as much, if not more problems, with drug intoxication as alcohol," he said. "It's just much harder to detect."

He said that the problem is made worse by the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, as well as the increased presence of heroin in the region.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.