ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexicans know it’s a problem, but it’s a problem the state has plenty of money to tackle. Records show law enforcement agencies have let millions of dollars to fight drunk driving go unspent.
Police arrest thousands of drivers each year for getting behind the wheel drunk or high.
“It’s a big issue in our state,” New Mexico State Police Maj. Matt Broom said.
New Mexico Dept. of Transportation Secretary Michael Sandoval said, “Even one DWI fatality is one too many.”
In New Mexico, that number is closer to 150 people killed each year in alcohol-related crashes. To help combat the problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the state millions of dollars each year.
“We take that money, we put as much into enforcement,” NMDOT Secretary Sandoval said.
He explained that NMDOT doles out a big chunk of that federal money to law enforcement agencies throughout the state to set up DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols. However, KRQE News 13 got the numbers and it turns out, those agencies don’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at their disposal each year.
“When they’re not able to spend their money, that’s disappointing to us because we know that there’s an issue out there and we know that they can make a difference,” Sandoval said.
With the most ground to cover, State Police also gets the most money to manage. So, KRQE News 13 sat down with NMSP Maj. Broom to go over the numbers.
“The vast majority of it is going to be toward overtime pay,” he explained.
The federal dollars pay for officers to enforce drunk driving and some of it pays for equipment to help, like vehicles, cones, signs and vests.
That’s for the money the police department does spend. However, data KRQE News 13 obtained from NMDOT reveals that in the last five years, State Police has let roughly $2 million go unspent. In fact, records show NMSP didn’t use 79% of its grant money in 2015 and didn’t use 63% the year after.
“It’s surprising,” Maj. Broom said. “And some numbers that you gave me like 2015 and 2016, those amounts, they are significantly high.”
Things were better in the last fiscal year. The numbers are still being finalized, but preliminary data shows NMSP spent the most on DWI enforcement in the last fiscal year than at any other point over the last five years at $1.8 million. And even still, it had roughly $877,000 left over.
“Why isn’t State Police spending all the money that’s available?” KRQE News 13 asked.
“It’s kind of a two-part thing,” Maj. Broom replied. “So, every contract that we have is typically on the books supposed to be 12 months, and it was some fault on our side, on the State Police side, and also some errors on the DOT side too.”
Maj. Broom cited a delay in getting the money.
“In some of those cases, we didn’t get this money until four months into the year or five months into the year. So, instead of having 12 months to spend down the money, we may have seven.”
Then there are staffing struggles. Others leaving the most money on the table from year to year include the McKinley County Task Force, the Albuquerque Police Department and the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office.
They all told News 13 that getting the manpower for checkpoints or saturation patrols is a challenge because officers are often already working overtime on their regular shifts. The Transportation Department recognizes that.
“We’ve gone over the last 15 years, from a state that was having 20,000 DWI arrests per year down to 8 or 9,000, and I think part of that is we’ve been successful in reducing fatalities, but the other part is law enforcement just hasn’t had the resources to prioritize this within their agency. They’re just, I think, struggling even to make service calls at this point,” Sandoval said.
When police departments don’t use the money, NMDOT says it can use it instead to pay for more billboards and videos as part of its awareness campaign to encourage the community to help “ENDWI.” Still, NMDOT said enforcement is the best deterrent.
“I can tell you from this year going forward, hopefully we’ll spend down a lot more of that money at a lot quicker pace where we don’t have to give it back,” Maj. Broom said.
He explained NMSP now has a two-year contract with NMDOT, which means they already know how much funding they’ll get next year and can plan ahead for that.
Plus, he said, the police department got the funding faster this year. So, if you haven’t seen officers out on the road yet, State Police said you can expect to soon, especially through this holiday season.