state police checkpoint medanales april 2016

A New Mexico State Police officer runs a checkpoint in Medanales in April 2016.

It is impossible to make an arrest from six feet away, but local law enforcement is doing all it can to adhere to social distancing in an inherently hands-on job.

“We almost need a holster for (hand sanitizer) on our duty belts,” quipped Española Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jeremy Apodaca.

The Department has closed its lobby and asks anyone seeking documents to do so remotely, and the Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office has moved to taking non-emergency reports remotely in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

People reporting minor crashes, thefts and burglaries after the fact, and other less-urgent incidents to the Sheriff’s Office are asked to call 753-3320 and leave a number for a deputy to call back and take a report. 

Planned sobriety checkpoints and increased traffic enforcement in the city that was set to go through March and April have been put on hold for several weeks, said Apodaca.

While visibly impaired or reckless drivers will still be stopped, routine DWI checkpoints and more aggressive traffic operations will be suspended.

“We’ve kind of pulled back the reins on that a little bit,” Apodaca said. “Part of DWI detection is being very up close to somebody.”

A similar DWI surge planned in the Sheriff’s Office has also been postponed.

Though the Sheriff’s Office has not significantly changed its arrest procedure, Apodaca said the Española Police Department is continuing a push to keep people out of jail when possible.

Officers are encouraged to issue citations for offenses such as shoplifting, repeat trespassing, or other nonviolent, non felony offenses that do not pose a threat to public safety.

He emphasized that even if an offender is not immediately jailed, potential penalties in court remain the same.

The Sheriff’s Office animal services will not impound animals unless they have attacked or injured another person or animal.

Apodaca said officers are wearing gloves and masks for any personal interactions.

“It’s nothing personal, we’re not trying to treat everybody like they’re sick,” he said. “If we go down as law enforcement, we’re not there to help the public.”

Aguilar said that for now, deputies are only wearing protective gear on high-risk calls. Dispatchers ask callers routine questions to screen them for potential COVID-19 symptoms and inform all first responders of any necessary precautions.

Aguilar said the courts’ move to hold all hearings possible by phone or video and push back non-essential hearings has drastically decreased the need for deputies to transport inmates.

Though the Sheriff’s Office supplies are reportedly decently stocked, Apodaca said the Española Police Department is running low.

“It’s hard right now, we have some equipment but we’re very limited on our number,” he said. “All of our suppliers have dried up really.”

He said PMI Janitorial Service has helped to provide some equipment and that the city government has put in an emergency purchase order.

Apodaca said it is early to examine data, but calls for service seem to have slowed.

“Stuff has quieted down a little,” he said. “It really feels like for the most part people are being good right now. The radio traffic that we hear has really died down a bit.”

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