DUI arrests in Cortez increase fourfold during holidays

‘They’re not all at night either,’ says police lieutenant

This holiday season, Cortez police cited more than four times the number of intoxicated drivers compared with last year.

Patrol Lt. Andy Brock said 34 people in Cortez were cited on suspicion of driving under the influence from during December and the New Year’s weekend. The police department has been sending out extra patrol officers on DUI shifts five nights a week, as they typically do during the holiday season, but in 2015, only eight people were arrested for DUIs in December, Brock said.

“I’ve been amazed,” Brock said. “They’re not all at night either.”

He said police have responded to several alcohol-related traffic accidents in December, and DUI incidents have occurred anytime from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. DUI arrests typically spike during weekends – especially holiday weekends – but Brock said that this year, they’ve been steady all week long.

Brock said seven people were arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving over the New Year’s Eve weekend. Two had children in the car when they were stopped, and one was carrying an infant while driving.

The Colorado Department of Transportation awards grants every year to local agencies, including the Cortez Police Department and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, for holiday DUI enforcement. The Colorado State Patrol increased enforcement statewide, and the sheriff’s office also performed DUI patrols in December, although Sheriff Steven Nowlin didn’t report a dramatic increase in the number of arrests. He did say that marijuana-related impaired driving incidents were on the rise, and he expects that trend to continue into the new year.

The sheriff’s office sets up DUI checkpoints three times a year, but didn’t over New Year’s weekend.

“Our busier times tend to be during the summer months,” Nowlin said. “In other parts of the state, they have checkpoints on New Year’s Eve, but we don’t have the resources to do that.”

He said the checkpoints act as a deterrent for partiers, who will think twice about drinking and driving if they know there’s a checkpoint on their route home. Only two people were arrested at DUI checkpoints in 2016.

But even though deputies didn’t operate a checkpoint, more of them patrolled for intoxicated drivers on New Year’s Eve, Nowlin said.

First-time DUI offenders can get sentences of up to a year in jail, license suspension and thousands of dollars in fines, according to CDOT. Penalties increase for repeat offenders.

More importantly, though, Brock and Nowlin emphasized how dangerous it is to drive while impaired.

“We don’t want to cover crashes or injuries,” Brock said. “We don’t want to be making arrests during the holidays.”

He added that Cortez police will have additional patrol officers on duty to deal with DUI incidents throughout the month of January.

Nowlin urged county residents to plan ahead for celebrations.

“Have a designated driver if you’re going to be drinking anything at all,” he said. “Most DUI situations come about when people don’t plan ahead. Have a plan, and you’ll save your life and somebody else’s.”