Sheriff’s Dept. to zero in on DWI offenses

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Thanks to an Operation DWI grant, sheriff’s deputies are out in force on patrols and at checkpoints from now until October.

“Starting on the 19th, we will have saturations and check points for the rest of the month,” Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Priscilliano “Shorty” Vaiza said on Monday.

The department steps up patrols on highways and in areas where DWIs are a problem.

“We saturate a certain area looking for DWIs, traffic infractions and parties,” Vaiza said.

“We concentrate a lot on northern Socorro County. We saturate the Veguita area and we will have checkpoints on roads around there, such as Highway 116 and 60, and Highway 304 going north from Highway 60.”

The last checkpoint in the Veguita area netted one DWI arrest and several citations, even though it was on a weekday.

“We just had a checkpoint on Highway 304 on Thursday,” he said. “We issued 31 traffic citations for offenses like no insurance or driving without a license, two citations for driving with a suspended or revoked license, and one DWI.”

Several officers are needed for each four-hour checkpoint and patrol during the saturations, and the Operation DWI grant pays the overtime involved, he said.

Vaiza said the sheriff’s department has been busier than usual this summer, and he isn’t sure why.

“I’m surprised. We’ve been getting three times as many calls as in past years,” he said. “We average about 120 arrests in a year, and we’re up to 200 arrests already, and it’s only September.”

The sheriff’s department serves both the city and the county.

“We never refuse a call, even from within the city,” Vaiza said. “If the Socorro Police Department is busy or needs support, we’ll go. Sometimes the person calling in for assistance just prefers a certain department”

The sheriff deputies are on call even after the night shift ends at 2 a.m. and before the day shift starts at 7 a.m.

“We get a lot of calls after 2 a.m. when the officers all go home,” he said.

The sheriff’s department does not have its own dispatch office, so the State Police Division 11 Socorro Dispatch Office routes calls to the deputies as a courtesy, said Socorro area NMSP Sgt. Matthew Romero.

The state police dispatchers call the officer nearest the incident, either a state police officer or a sheriff’s deputy, he said.

Right now, the five-person Socorro State Police Dispatch Office is handling all the service calls in the county as well as the sheriff department’s instant background checks.

“We run all of their National Crime Information Center checks,” he said. “It puts an extra workload on the dispatch center.”

The state police has been focussing its efforts on reducing traffic accidents on Interstate 25 from Las Cruces up through Albuquerque as well as answering other calls in the county, which puts a burden on Socorro County’s six patrolmen and two sergeants.

“We are short-handed. We are down three officers right now,” Romero said. “We are hoping to get one or two officers this year.”

The NMSP can hire only officers who are graduates of the State Police Academy in Santa Fe, he said.