Rare DWI checkpoint on Plaza nets two citations

Santa Fe police officers conduct a DWI checkpoint Tuesday night on San Francisco Street along the Plaza — the first traffic enforcement operation in the heart of the downtown area in a decade. The checkpoint, which resulted in no drunken-driving arrests, was part of the city police department’s two-month-long Spring Blitz intended to encourage drivers to operate their vehicles more safely. Cynthia Miller/The New Mexican

The rare occurrence of a DWI checkpoint in the heart of Santa Fe’s tourism district, not seen in more than a decade, came this week amid a two-month-long traffic enforcement “blitz” aimed at reducing crashes and encouraging motorists to drive more safely.

While the Santa Fe Police Department’s Spring Blitz, from March 29 to May 31, has mainly targeted roadways with the most drunken-driving crashes and arrests, officers conducted a checkpoint on San Francisco Street along the Plaza from 8 p.m. to midnight Tuesday, stopping drivers passing through the restaurant- and bar-laden downtown area.

Even police Chief Andrew Padilla made an appearance to support officers.

“The chief was out there, showing the love,” Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said. Of the 315 vehicles that passed through the checkpoint, he said, 12 were stopped and two drivers were issued citations. There were no DWI arrests.

“It’s a positive,” Valdez said. “It looks like people are abiding by the rules.”

Last year, some city councilors expressed concern that DWI checkpoints were unfairly targeting the southern and southwestern areas of the city, rather than some of the more affluent neighborhoods. Police maintained they were choosing locations based on data.

While data is a primary driver of checkpoints, Valdez said, police are also responding to complaints from residents who see traffic violations in their neighborhoods.

In this case, he said, it was business owners around the Plaza who had been asking for the operation.

“We’ve always had a lot of requests for a checkpoint to happen on the Plaza,” Valdez said. “People want to make sure that there’s a presence there as well.”

It’s been more than 10 years since the last Plaza checkpoint, Valdez said, adding that police want to make sure such operations are happening “equally across the town.”

Most of the department’s efforts in the first two weeks of the Spring Blitz were along St. Francis Drive, where vehicle crashes are prevalent. From March 29 through April 11, police made 213 traffic stops on St. Francis between North Guadalupe Street and West Zia Road. They handed out 185 citations, gave 26 verbal warnings, and arrested four drivers on suspicion of DWI and one on an active warrant.

Operations this week are being conducted on Cerrillos Road from St. Francis to Siler Road, another frequent trouble spot.

Future enforcement efforts likely will be on Airport Road, Interstate 25 between N.M. 599 and Old Pecos Trail, Rodeo Road, Agua Fría Street, Rufina Street, Siringo Road, Paseo de Peralta and Guadalupe Street.

Police monitor up-to-date crash statistics to determine their next target area, Valdez said.

The majority of the Spring Blitz enforcement operations — run by teams of traffic officers, DWI officers and patrol officers on overtime — consist of DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols watching out not for only drunken driving but for speeding, red-light violations, distracted driving and reckless or aggressive driving.

The goal, police say, is not only to reduce crashes, but to prompt drivers to change their behavior.

Police remain hopeful, but recent incidents indicate change is slow.

On April 11, there were three suspected DWI-related crashes in Santa Fe. One, a collision between two pickups on West Alameda Street, left a man critically injured. Two other men were arrested on suspicion of DWI, one after crashing a car into a downtown building at the corner of Montezuma Avenue and Cerrillos Road, and another after rolling his SUV near Cerrillos Road and the on-ramp to I-25.

Valdez told the city’s public safety committee Tuesday that while the number of crashes on St. Francis Drive seem to have decreased over the past two weeks, unsafe drivers might have learned to avoid that roadway.

“It looks like those crashes have now been displaced to other areas,” Valdez said.

The objective, he added, was to change driving habits “over the long haul.”

After the Spring Blitz ends May 31, a 100-day traffic enforcement operation, a collaborative effort among several New Mexico law enforcement agencies, will begin.

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