The work day started out at dusk with a light-hearted discussion between two deputies about the Smurfs and the color blue.
By 8:15 p.m., there was a glow of blue and red lights from units belonging to Valencia County Sheriff’s deputies, who were preparing a DWI checkpoint for the Labor Day weekend.
A few deputies trickled into the Allsup’s gas station nearby and grabbed a quick snack before they headed to help stop dozens of motorists who passed through the checkpoint on N.M. 47 in Rio Communities.
One deputy grabbed a tea, another grabbed a green tea and a breakfast bar.
When one of the deputies told the cashier about the DWI checkpoint, she boasted that employees “get muscles” from all the beer they sell on Friday nights.
The deputies, including Valencia County Sheriff’s Sgt. Alan Montano, were at a 600-foot stretch of roadway where they conducted the checkpoint. The deputies dressed in reflective vests on top of the regular uniforms, complete with a gun and badge.
The crew staggered red cones with reflective stripes and signs that read, “Reduced Speed Ahead” and “Sobriety Checkpoint Ahead.”
By 8:40 p.m., most of the signs were set up.
Just before the setup was complete, Montano was heard barking out commands for the truck carrying the signs to stop.
The first seven vehicles traveling southbound stopped as deputies prepared to start their night, which went until 1 a.m.
A dark-colored Mercury Sable, facing southbound, and a White Chevy pickup, traveling the opposite direction on the roadway, were the first to go through. Both drivers were waved through as they produced valid identification, registration and proof of insurance.
Shortly after, a tan Ford Focus became the first car to pull into the “safe zone,” an area where drivers must go if deputies suspect some sort of wrongdoing, which could range from a suspected DWI to having no proof of insurance.
“Hey, you guys got a customer,” Montano hollers. “Wanna bet it’s for no registration or their insurance is missing?”
Montano was right.
The veteran deputy of 10 years has organized DWI checkpoints for four years in Valencia County. On this night, most of the deputy’s work comes from citations, not DWI offenses.
He said having no insurance or current registration is a typical infraction committed by Valencia County drivers.
“If they don’t have (current insurance, registration and a valid driver’s license) they go into the safe zone.”
One of the deputies shines his flashlight into the pickup truck of a man traveling southbound. The deputy identifies himself and asked the man for his license, registration and insurance.
Deputies are required to have a certain dialogue with drivers during a checkpoint.
The conversation between the deputy and the man is quick. The conclusion of the conversation ends with a polite “thank you” from the man as he drives away.
The four deputies, two on each side of the street, communicate with each other.
“Safe zone,” one yells.
Deputies must keep track of the drivers they interact with to ensure everyone is stopped.
Montano emphasizes the “everyone” part.
“Like I told my guys, everyone gets stopped, no matter who they are.”
But the communication doesn’t start and end with those who are on the scene.
The sergeant said he communicates with dispatchers to make sure he can clear up the area from traffic if an ambulance or other emergency vehicle were to travel down the roadway.
“It’s no good if we aren’t safe,” Montano said. “That’s the most important thing.”
By 9:07 p.m., 53 vehicles have passed through the checkpoint.
He said educating the public that drivers need to have the proper identification and insurance to legally operate a motor vehicle is important. Montano goes so far as to invite the assistant district attorneys out to similar checkpoints.
After some small talk, Montano points to a group of deputies huddled around the front hood of a patrol car. Deputies are using the National Crime Information Center to look up drivers’ information and to do a wanted check. Some call it in over their radios. Some must call dispatch since they don’t have NCIC capability.
Montano admits the checkpoint, which has the Valencia County Mobile Command Center nearby, is not too bad to supervise.
“It makes it easier to supervise because we are in one area,” Montano said. “We aren’t all over the county.”
As he walks across the street, the sergeant uses the police radio to tell other deputies about a black car and a white Honda that drove down the ditchbank to the west of the roadway to avoid the checkpoint.
One deputy jumps in his car and takes off after the drivers.
Montano explains the drivers are trespassing by driving down the ditchbank, which is owned by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.
About a minute later, the deputy returns without any contact with the drivers to “the safe zone” just east of the roadway.
“Too far out, huh?” Montano says to the deputy.
After a brief lull, Deputy Otto King approaches a car that had just pulled into the safe zone.
The driver, a woman, couldn’t find current registration and proof of insurance. A few minutes later, the woman showed the deputy current registration, but not proof of insurance. He wrote her a citation, but a minute later, she showed him proof that her insurance was current.
After a brief conversation about whether she should receive a ticket, King tells the woman to have “a safe night” after she takes her copy of the citation.
King explained drivers have “a reasonable amount” of time to produce the correct documentation. He said state statute requires drivers produce the documentation immediately after it’s requested.
On this night, there were no DWI arrests and a few warrant arrests at the Rio Communities checkpoint.
Another deputy, Stephen Hall, said he had written five or six citations by 10 p.m. He said the DWI checkpoints, which the sheriff’s department holds twice a month, helps rid the streets of people who could be potentially dangerous.
“Some guys have outstanding warrants or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” Hall said. “(They are people who) could put the public in danger. We are helping get them off of the streets.”
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