9 News Investigates: El Paso DWI arrests dipped during the pandemic

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) —Over the past few months, El Paso has morphed from the “Sun City” into a “quiet city” with curfews, closures and caution keeping many people home and off the roads, particularly at night.

If you think this has led to a drop in DWI arrests, you would be right.

KTSM filed an open records request with the City of El Paso to examine police DWI arrest numbers over the last few months compared to last year.

In April of 2019 — roughly a year before the pandemic — El Paso police made 299 DWI arrests for the month. In April of this year, with health orders in effect, that figure dropped to 125 arrests.

Records show in July of 2019, police made 262 arrests. In July of this year, it was 160 arrests.

And in September of 2019, there were 262 arrests compared to 232 this past September.

“We did see our numbers go down dramatically,” said Juan Ferrel, a member of the EPPD DWI Task Force.

“Businesses were closed that were catering to individuals drinking,” he added. “We don’t have many people going out anymore, and we don’t have many people driving around at night, especially.”

“I think (at the start of the pandemic) people were alarmed and restricted,” said Diana Meraz, an assistant district attorney for El Paso County.

Experts told KTSM the virus has also presented unprecedented challenges for local law enforcement, with police officers cautious of who they pull over and who they decide to take into custody.

“You know, jail really isn’t the place to be right now because they are having their own issues,” said Judge Robert Anchondo of El Paso County’s DWI Drug Court.

Still, Anchondo said alcohol abuse remains a problem, with many people stressed out by the pressures of the pandemic.

“I think personal consumption (of alcohol) has really driven up.”

“Unfortunately, one of the biggest outlets for people who are at home and depressed, maybe lost their jobs, is drugs and alcohol,” Meraz added.

Anchondo currently oversees the county’s DWI Drug Court Intervention and Treatment Program which has celebrated much success with its participants.

For more information on the program, visit the court’s website.

You can also read a letter the judge has put together for National Impaired Driving Prevention Month 2020 here.

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