Funding delay curbs holiday police action

Steve Garrison
Vehicles slow down on Dec. 19 at a sobriety checkpoint on East Main Street in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A delay in state grant disbursement may mean there will be fewer officers on the streets to make drunken driving arrests this Thanksgiving weekend, according to local law enforcement officials.

Farmington police Lt. Taft Tracy said Tuesday that his department is unable to pay officers overtime to work sobriety checkpoints during the holiday weekend, which runs through Sunday.

Tracy said the department expected to use an ENDWI grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation's Traffic Safety Bureau to fund DWI enforcement actions during the holiday weekend, but the state agency did not disburse the grant until Wednesday, after The Daily Times contacted the agency about it.

New Mexico Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Kennicott said in an email Wednesday that his department had approved ENDWI grants for Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec.

"NMDOT takes preventing and ending DWI seriously, and that's why we facilitate these grants," Kennicott said. "We provide the extra funding for overtime to help encourage greater enforcement than would normally occur. The grants for Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington have all been executed and we informed these communities today via phone that they can begin using ENDWI grants for enforcement activities over the holidays."

Tracy said Wednesday he appreciated that the state department approved the grants, but it would be difficult to find officers to work over the holidays on short notice.

"Everyone has already signed up to do special details, or they made personal plans," Tracy said. "It's going to make it difficult for me to get anything done."

The number of alcohol-related crashes and deaths spikes from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The high risk of injury or death stems from an increase in holiday-related traffic and the celebration by some of "Blackout Wednesday" a tongue-in-cheek reference to the binge drinking that sometimes precedes Thanksgiving, according to MADD.

Last year, Farmington police arrested 17 people during the Thanksgiving holiday on suspicion of drunken driving, including one woman who allegedly hit a pedestrian with her vehicle and then tried to flee the scene.

Bloomfield police Chief Randy Foster said early on Wednesday that his agency also did not receive the ENDWI grant, which is to be used during the "Holiday Superblitz" from Nov. 13 to Jan. 9.

He said Wednesday afternoon he received an email approving the grant, and he will find officers to perform DWI patrols over the holiday weekend.

Foster said his department received approval in early November from the Bloomfield City Council to receive $15,744 through the state's ENDWI grant this year. Last year, the department received $28,623, according to Foster.

"So even when we get our grant, it will be less than last year," Foster said.

Aztec police Capt. Troy Morris could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

An officer checks a driver at a sobriety checkpoint on East Main Street in Farmington on Dec. 19.

Kennicott said the ENDWI grant contract for the San Juan County Sheriff's Office was not approved by the San Juan County Commission until Nov. 17, and it was not mailed back to the New Mexico Department of Transportation until Tuesday.

He said the sheriff's office would be able to use a community DWI grant for drunken driving enforcement during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Sheriff's office Sgt. Devon Dollar confirmed the paperwork wasn't approved by the commission until Nov. 17, but he said NMDOT has always been slow to disburse its DWI enforcement grants.

Dollar said the community DWI grant his office will use to fund patrolmen activities this holiday weekend was actually supposed to be disbursed before July 1, but the state did not finalize that grant until Nov. 5.

"This is my third year it's been like that," Dollar said. "Last year, we were in the same boat, but we got our money a little sooner, and we were able to take part in it. If we could get the grants earlier, we could plan better."

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.