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More than 50 motorists suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) were caught by local law enforcement officers in 2012 — more than double the number caught in 2011.
Between the Pagosa Springs Police Department and Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, 51 DUI stops were made as of 9 a.m. on Dec. 31, 2012, with the PSPD recording 43 of those stops.
That number is up from 23 in 2011 and nine in 2010 for the PSPD.
PSPD Chief William Rockensock, however, doesn’t believe the higher number of DUI stops equates to more people driving while intoxicated, but is due, rather, to stronger enforcement.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think it’s good for public safety,” Rockensock said. “It shows the guys are out doing their job.”
Rockensock contributes the increase of DUI stops over the past few years to having newer officers who are now more trained, “up to speed,” and more able to make the stops, as well as to obtaining continued grant funding that helps with the effort.
“Everything we’re doing, we’ve always done,” Rockensock said, admitting, “There’s kind of a rejuvenation as to enforcement efforts.”
For several years, the PSPD has received grant funding from the state through the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to run High Visibility Impaired Driving Enforcement campaigns through CDOT’s “The Heat Is On” initiative.
That grant funding, Rockensock said, provides overtime pay for officers to perform DUI patrols.
“When we participate in those, the funding for overtime comes directly from CDOT,” Rockensock said.
Many of the DUI arrests come not during those campaigns, however, but throughout the rest of the year.
The CDOT campaigns, Rockensock said, are planned for times with a high likelihood of impaired driving (such as holidays), and are meant to act as a deterrent with the announcement of increased patrols.
In addition to the PSPD’s 43 DUI stops, ACSO personnel made eight stops in 2012, up from five in 2011, and even with the eight made in 2010.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Undersheriff Rich Valdez said of the difference in the number of stops made by the two departments.
Valdez said ACSO deputies are trained the same as PSPD officers and have attended court testimony training to increase deputy confidence in dealing with DUIs.
The ACSO, though, receives no grant funding related to DUIs through CDOT.
“We’re definitely going to work harder,” Valdez said, with he and Sheriff Pete Gonzalez adding that they plan to increase the number of DUI stops made in 2013.
Valdez said he considers traffic stops to be a deterrent to all crimes, with the goal of stopping crimes before they are committed.
Valdez further stated that, if deficiencies are identified in the department, they will be corrected.
Statistics from the Colorado State Patrol concerning DUI stops within Archuleta County were not available by press time Wednesday.
Also potentially helping to rejuvenate efforts to catch DUI drivers is new equipment slated to arrive this spring.
The PSPD and ACSO will soon be the joint recipients of a new intoxilyzer machine, set to replace the older machine now located at the Archuleta County Detention Center.
That machine, Rockensock said, will be paid for (to the tune of about $10,000) by law enforcement assistance funding, which is being used to replace intoxilyzers statewide.
Rockensock anticipated the new machine would arrive in February or March.
According to CDOT’s website, more than 26,000 people are arrested for DUI and over 150 people are killed in alcohol-related traffic crashes each year in Colorado. That number, the website notes, represents more than one-third of Colorado’s total motor vehicle fatalities.
Further, 16 percent of fatalities between 2006 and 2010 involve drivers who tested positive for drugs.
“I think the drunk drivers are there; they’re just not caught,” Rockensock said.
But they might be soon.