Few advancements in law enforcement technology have had more impact nationwide than electronic citation. The technology has been on line a little more than a decade, and e-citation systems are now in use by federal, state, county, and municipal agencies. And they all sing its praises.
The most experienced users of e-citation hardware and software tend to be state police and state highway patrol agencies. In many states, state administrators also help research what equipment and what software is approved for use by other agencies within that state that wish to receive state funds and grants for their e-citation programs.
Adopters of e-citation technology have discovered that the systems offer major benefits.
More Patrol Hours
The Oregon State Police launched its e-citation pilot program in 2004, starting with one agency and then rapidly expanding to four. Today, many of the state's agencies are using e-citation.
Steve Vitolo, law enforcement and judicial manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, says the state decided to start using electronic citation and electronic crash reporting systems because it needed to maximize officer efficiency. "Oregon had one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in the Western United States," says Vitolo.
Agencies in the state did not have the funds to hire more officers so they needed to find a way to maximize officer hours. Vitolo says e-citation has increased officer efficiency and helped maximize officer presence on Oregon's roads. "At the end of the day if you save five minutes per stop and you make 40 stops per day, that's 200 minutes per day that you've saved," he says. Vitolo argues that increased officer presence makes Oregon's highways safer.
He also believes it cuts crime because officers have more time to make more traffic stops. "The bad guys are driving cars," Vitolo says. "In Oregon, 80% of felony arrests occur because of traffic stops."
The North Carolina Highway Patrol was one of the nation's first agencies to adopt e-citation. And Rodney W. Spell of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety says the agency has benefitted from both trooper efficiency and information sharing with the court and other agencies. "Electronic transfer allows citation information to be immediately available to the court system; data vetting reduces errors; and the system reduces stop time therefore increasing time for preventative patrol," he explains.
The information sharing benefit of e-citation can be a very effective weapon against traffic scofflaws. "It used to take 12 days to get a conviction on a driving record in Oregon," says Vitolo. "So a driver could get stopped every day for 12 days and neither the officer nor the judge would know about your conviction. Now this is a one- or two-day process, and the officers and judges can make more informed decisions about whether you are a danger to the public."
Another benefit of e-citation is two-way communication between law enforcement and the courts about the availability of judges to hear cases. "Our DigiTicket system automatically sets the court date," say Chief Craig Mellecker of the Dodge City (Kan.) Police Department. "It used to be when the municipal court judge was scheduled for vacation, we would get a memo and every officer would be made aware of it. That worked for the first week and then they'd forget. Now the court clerks go into DigiTicket and plug into the court calendar when the judge is not available."
Mellecker says one of the primary reasons he wanted an e-citation system for the Dodge City PD was to improve officer safety. "Anything that speeds up our traffic stops makes officers safer," he says. "The goal is to get officers out of the road faster because any time we are standing out there writing a ticket, we run the risk of somebody hitting us who is not paying attention."
Another feature of the DigiTicket solution from Saltus Technologies that has impressed Mellecker is the analytics. "We have a state mandate to report car stops," he says. "On DigiTicket's secure Website, we can see where most of the traffic stops are being conducted and map them. In the past, to get that I would have to ask the record clerks to manually go through the tickets."
The court clerks in Dodge City have also discovered another benefit of the e-citation system that the local police started using this year. They no longer have to read chicken scratch writing. "Legibility was a big problem," says Mellecker. "From the writing on our tickets before the system, you would think we were employing a force of doctors. Now we don't have the clerks calling us and saying they can't read the tickets."
Illegible tickets sounds like a trivial concern, but it can be a big deal. Before the McCallen (Texas) Police Department started using an e-citation system featuring a Zebra Technologies printer, local courts were throwing out 10% of all tickets. E-citation solved that problem.
For the Sarasota (Fla.) Police Department one of the best things about e-citation is that the technology has given new capabilities to the agency's motor officers. Prior to the Sarasota PD's adoption of e-citation about four years ago, the motor officers had to hand write all tickets. Now they can scan the violator's license into a Motorola handheld and use a stylus to quickly process a ticket, print a copy for the motorist, and send a digital version to the court.
One problem that Sarasota has experienced with the system is that it can't handle the exotic and the unusual, which is very common in Florida. "It does a great job with U.S. driver licenses," says Sgt. Robert Resch, "but if the person is driving on an out of country license like Costa Rica, you can't scan it and you have to hand write the ticket."
Any new technology is going to present problems for early adopters. Both North Carolina and Oregon spent time on the bleeding edge of e-citation technology, and their officers experienced their share of glitches.
Spell says the NCDPS experienced difficulties with user authentication and connectivity to the court systems back when it went online in 2001. But those problems have since been resolved.
Oregon DOT's Vitolo says technical issues have arisen during the state's nine-year history with e-citation, but he sings the praises of Oregon's e-citation vendors and especially Advanced Public Safety. "APS has been a long-term partner for us for more than a decade now," he says. "They listen very well, and they have been more than willing to make adjustments."
APS is also helping Oregon DOT plot the next stage of e-citation development in the state. "APS at the senior management level has discussed with us the future of e-citation not just for Oregon but for agencies nationwide," Vitolo says.
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