Background

The Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) Traffic Division was disbanded in 1994 and the officers dispersed to the five area commands as part of a shift to Community Oriented Policing. As a consequence of the policies, the only remaining centralized traffic enforcement organization in the city consisted of a lieutenant, the DWI unit, an analyst, and Gilhooly, the officer responsible for writing proposals to obtain traffic safety grants. The decentralization of traffic units also resulted in uneven enforcement effort, depending upon the emphasis of the various area commanders. The number of traffic citations issued is a useful measure of traffic enforcement effort. While officers in one command issued 300 to 400 citations per month, officers in other areas were discouraged from writing traffic citations (to avoid complaints from citizens) and issued fewer than 100 tickets all year. [The traffic units were reorganized to again form a centralized force at the conclusion of the APD’s special enforcement program in December of 1997. The centralized traffic unit issued more than 32,000 citations during the first five months of 1998, compared to fewer than 28,000 by the decentralized units during all of 1996.] 

Staffing level directly affects an agency’s ability to implement any special program. Although Albuquerque’s population continues to grow by about two percent each year, the number of officers assigned to traffic is 25 percent below the 1988 high, and roughly equal to the staffing levels in the early 1970s. There are only 25 motorcycle officers to respond to crashes and traffic complaints, and to enforce traffic laws across five large area commands. The DWI Unit fills in some of the enforcement gaps, but despite this help there is no dedicated traffic enforcement for eleven hours each day Monday through Friday, and no coverage at all on weekends. To counter this condition, the traffic unit submits many proposals for traffic safety grants to fund officer overtime, training, and equipment. 

From 1990 through 1995, the incidence of crime in the City of Albuquerque had increased at a rate approximately equal to the increase in population (about two percent annually). After experiencing several years of relatively stable crime rates, law enforcement officers and the public were startled by a 16 percent increase in crime in 1996. The increase in crime was not discovered as a sterile statistic at the end of the year, but rather, it was observed in human terms, on a daily basis. Throughout 1996, the news in Albuquerque seemed filled with reports of robberies, burglaries, and murders. The year ended with the three fatal cases of road rage. 

The dramatic increase in crime during 1996 was accompanied by a 13 percent jump in crashes and a noticeable increase in aggressive driving. These changes appeared to some observers to coincide with a general shift in the public’s attitudes away from civility and respect for other citizens and the law.