ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An expensive city law designed to shame drunk drivers into staying off the roads may not be having the effect politicians intended.
In fact, the law may be having no effect at all.
“We don’t believe there’s any research – not any that I’ve seen and not any that our national office has been aware of – that really shows that there is an effectiveness in deterring the drunk driving issue,” said Lora Lee Ortiz, head of the New Mexico chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The law, passed in 2006 by the Albuquerque City Council, calls for the jail mug shots of all people convicted of drunken driving in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court or the Second Judicial District to be published in the newspaper or on the city’s Web site.
Since then, the city has spent more than $250,000 on 41 double-sided, full-page ads in the Albuquerque Journal. The ads are published roughly every six weeks and have featured about 7,000 people convicted of driving while intoxicated. The city pays for the ads using public funds earmarked for DWI enforcement and education.
According to statistics, about 22,000 people have been convicted of DWI in Bernalillo County during the last five years. It was not immediately clear why only one-third of those convicted have appeared in the newspaper.
The law was the brainchild of former Albuquerque City Councilor Michael Cadigan, who told colleagues during debate about the law five years ago that shame was the name of the game.
“This is an effort to provide one more disincentive for people to make that terrible choice to drink and drive,” Cadigan said in 2006. “Maybe, just maybe, they will think about getting a designated driver before they risk public humiliation and public scorn.”
But not all of Cadigan’s colleagues were on board with that thinking.
“Do you think this is going to be effective?” Councilor Debbie O’Malley asked her fellow legislators five years ago. “Well, not really. Do you think it’s going to change anybody’s attitude once they get in the car and say, ‘You know what, let’s see, I might kill somebody or I might be in the paper.’ ”
Councilor Ken Sanchez echoed O’Malley’s skepticism.
“I would personally like to see that money go into rehabilitation more than humiliation,” he said in 2006. “I don’t believe humiliation is truly the answer.”
Sanchez and O’Malley said they’d only vote for the mug shot law if it could be proven to work. So, the council added a requirement that the law’s effectiveness must be evaluated one year down the road.
But O’Malley told News 13’s Larry Barker that councilors have never conducted that evaluation and have no evidence – six years later – whether their investment has had the desired effect.
Current city council President Don Harris defended the program.
“If it’s saved one life, it’s money well spent,” Harris said.
However, he admitted he hadn’t seen any documentation that quantified the program’s effectiveness.
In an effort to gauge the law’s ability to deter drunken drivers, News 13 analyzed all 41 ads. We found almost two dozen DWI offenders who appeared in multiple ads over the last five years. They include Jose Simental in November 2006, January 2009 and January 2011, Jackie Kelly in February 2007, October 2008 and April 2009, and Estelle Reano in November 2006, October 2008 and October 2010.
Finally, there’s the fact that the city could have saved its $250,000 – which works out to about $5,800 a pop -- and merely printed the mug shots on its Web site. But Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry said the city gets more bang for its buck by printing the pictures in the newspaper.
“I think by putting the ads on the city Web site, we don’t create the conversation we do by having them in the newspaper,” Berry said. “If I felt it wasn’t meaningful at all to have them in the newspaper, I would have stopped it immediately. So, obviously, I think there’s some merit to having it there.”
However, both Berry and Harris said it’s time to put the mug shot ordinance under the microscope.
“I think it’s time to have a dialogue with MADD, the city council, the public safety team (and) talk about it and see if there’s things we can do better,” Berry said. “Because, at the end of the day, (the) city council, (the) mayor … the public – we want to make sure we’re combating DWI.”
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