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FARMINGTON — The Farmington Police Department has implemented new software in squad car computers to limit distracted driving by patrolmen.

Farmington police spokeswoman Georgette Allen said the software, which in the past month has been installed in the majority of Farmington's police vehicles, will disable the patrol computer's keyboard if the vehicle exceeds 20 miles per hour.

The software will shut down the computer entirely if the vehicle exceeds 25 miles per hour, Allen said.

Allen said the software has been popular for a while in the private sector to improve driver attentiveness, but, as far as she knows, Farmington is the first law enforcement agency in New Mexico to implement it.

"It is a proactive approach," Allen said. "Instead of waiting for something to happen, a tragic accident, we would rather implement it now."

The department will spend $59 annually per vehicle to license the software, which will altogether be installed in 118 vehicles, Allen said.

According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, motor vehicle crashes have been the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the line of duty since the mid-1990s.

Car crashes killed 823 officers in the U.S. between 1980 and 2008, the report notes.

Crashes accounted for approximately 30 percent of officer deaths in 2013, according to the FBI.

In 2014, preliminary data compiled by the FBI indicates that motor vehicle crashes accounted for approximately 39 percent of officer deaths.

Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe pointed out that those numbers do not include officers injured in wrecks.

"This is a way of helping the officers be safer and focus on driving," he said.

Hebbe acknowledged there will be an adjustment period for officers who may be used to operating their computers while driving from call-to-call, but he believes it will be a short period.

"Officers adjusted to having computers in the car over the past 10 years, and now they will adjust to this," he said. "It shouldn't be a big issue."

Hebbe said he believes this safety measure may soon be seen in patrol vehicles nationwide.

"I think this will be, in five years ... much more common than not for law enforcement departments," he said.

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.

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