Photo Scot Haug
An officer in Washoe County, Nev., issues an e-ticket. PHOTO COURTESY CROSSROADS SOFTWARE
A PFPD officer prints a citation. PHOTO SCOT HAUG
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Officers issue millions of tickets each year across the United States, but despite the technology advances sweeping the world and other areas of law enforcement, the majority of agencies still issue citations exactly the same way they did at the turn of the century with pen and paper. Most officers still think, press hard, multiple copies when issuing a citation because they use the same type of multi-part forms they used when they began their career 20 years ago.
Although technology has assisted law enforcement in many arenas, our industry has been slow to automate manual, repetitive tasks. With XML programming, technology exists to automate data entry into multiple systems (requiring far fewer resources), but for a variety of reasons, the majority of law enforcement agencies continue to use legacy methods, specifically for the repetitive task of issuing citations.
Unlike law enforcement agencies, the private sector has long realized the cost savings and enhanced customer satisfaction in automation. Example: Today, when you return a rental car, typically the attendant comes out to greet you with a scanner in hand and a printer on the belt. They scan the bar code on the vehicle, check to make sure you filled it with gas and print out a receipt, all in a matter of minutes. The information is then automatically transmitted wirelessly to update the company s computer system, without human intervention.
Electronic ticketing software is changing the way we do business. A handful of agencies now use e-technology to automate the repetitive, time-consuming, error-ridden task of issuing citations for traffic violations. This article will explain how this technology works, and then discuss how we switched to e-tickets at my police department in Post Falls, Idaho.
How It Works
Electronic ticketing replaces the traditional ticket book with a computer. Specifically, an e-ticket program is software that works with mobile data computers (MDCs), a driver s license scanner, an electronic ticketing form and a compact printer. Typically, the e-ticket software is installed on an MDC mounted in a patrol vehicle or motorcycle. (Some agencies deploy the software on handheld smart devices, such as PDAs, particularly for motorcycle or foot officers.)
The system s simplicity allows officers to automatically populate an electronic version of a state s uniform citation by scanning or swiping the barcode on the back of the driver s license, which accesses personal information. When the driver s license is swiped, the system can automatically run the driver through your state s DMV system and National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to ensure valid driver status. When it receives the query result, the software automatically populates the associated fields on the electronic form with the most up-to-date driver information. Once the e-ticket form is populated with this information, you then swipe the bar code from the vehicle registration to populate the vehicle information into the electronic form.
After scanning the driver s license and registration, you finalize the e-ticket with a few keystrokes by selecting the location of the offense and the appropriate violation code. You then print an easy-to-read, accurate copy of the citation on a portable printer located in the patrol car. With recent improvements to thermal printing, the printers are very compact and able to print the e-ticket in a matter of seconds.
The final product is a professional-looking, durable, weather-resistant printout. We all dread issuing a pen-and-paper ticket in inclement weather and having the ink smear as the rain saturates the document we just spent 10 minutes filling out. With e-ticketing, this is no longer a concern because the paper and print are far more resistant to what Mother Nature dishes out in the field.
If the agency using an e-ticket program also has a wireless data infrastructure, the system simultaneously (within seconds) transmits the completed ticket to both the local court and the department s records management system (RMS) without user intervention. Agencies without wireless technology can use a sneaker net approach, either saving data on a disc, or bringing the computer into the office after the shift and downloading the day s work.
Thus, e-ticketing eliminates a dozen or more labor-intensive steps for both the police agency and court. Pen-and-paper citation processes require personnel to enter completed citations into a department s RMS computer, which can take several minutes per citation. Using XML technology, an e-ticket program can upload citation data into the mainframe automatically.
In addition to saving time on the back-end, e-ticket software enables officers to issue a citation in as little as one minute, compared to the 10 15 minutes it currently takes an officer to issue a pen-and-paper citation. All of this time savings means increased officer productivity, reduced support staff time and decreased wait time for drivers, which adds up to officers and support staff spending more time focusing on other, more important issues.
And last but not least, this technology increases accuracy. According to a 2003 Department of Justice report titled The Use of Electronic Citations, an estimated 10 percent of all citations contained errors. Too often, clerks and judges cannot read an officer s writing, resulting in the dismissal of citations. Citations are also frequently dismissed due to incorrect state codes or incomplete information. Errors also sneak in when staff retype citations into back-end computers. One Florida court reported that 35 percent of the citations it sees each day are dismissed due to these types of problems.
With an e-ticketing program, manual entry is very limited, vastly reducing errors. For instance, an e-ticket program can automatically calculate court dates and fine amounts upon violation selection from a drop-down list. Bottom line: The accuracy of electronic ticketing, including its option to capture an electronic signature, virtually eliminates contested tickets.
The Post Falls (Idaho) Police Department
Each year the Idaho Supreme Court manually processes approximately 250,000 citations, and it was looking for a way to reduce the data-entry overhead. The explosive growth in Post Falls, Idaho, and the technology already in place in the Post Falls Police Department (PFPD) made the department a good candidate to pilot an e-ticketing project for the state.
The PFPD researched two e-ticket vendors, Advanced Public Safety and Mobile Frame. With the intent that this pilot project would potentially be made available to every agency in the state, we considered several factors during the selection process, including:
1. Functionality and ease of use;
3. Cost (for both software and hardware);
4. Ability to interface with various RMSs; and
5. Continued technical support of the program.
In 2005, the PFPD, in conjunction with the Idaho Supreme Court, teamed up with Advance Public Safety (APS), a Florida-based software company, to pilot an e-ticketing project for Idaho. Three patrol cars were equipped with the e-ticketing system called E-Citation. Bar-code scanners were mounted in the patrol cars and connected to the laptops already in place. E-Citation was loaded onto the computers, allowing an officer to scan a driver s license and immediately populate 90 percent of the state uniform citation. The officer selects the location and violation from a drop-down list, then enters the vehicle information. The citation is ready to print in seconds.
In addition, an interface was developed between the APS software and the court s RMS and the PFPD s RMS. Once an officer issues a citation, the information is wirelessly transferred, in seconds, to both the court and PFPD computer systems without human intervention. The entire citation issuance process takes two to three minutes. Now the officers, records staff and court clerks all have more time for other aspects of their jobs.
The system has been operational now for several months, and officers involved in the pilot report the program is easy to use, with a tremendous amount of time saved. PFPD Officer Eismann says, I am pleased to report E-Citation works very well. It has accomplished its goal by reducing work and greatly reducing the time it takes to issue a citation.
Although the system has greatly reduced the workload, this project did not come without some obstacles. The main challenge with the project was working with the different software providers. The PFPD RMS provider, court RMS provider and Advance Public Safety all had to come to the table and work out many different issues, including interfaces between Windows computers and Unix operating systems. This process took nearly a year to complete.
The cost of the project to date totals approximately $40,000, with a portion of the project funded by the Idaho Supreme Court. Now that the software interfaces have been written, future implementations will be much more streamlined for agencies that take advantage of this technology, saving both time and money.
Due to the success of the program, the Idaho Supreme Court recently opened the project up to all agencies in the state. Agencies who wish to use E-Citation product can now purchase the hardware and software from Advance Public Safety, which will provide each Idaho agency the ability to take advantage of this timesaving tool.
The Next Step
The PFPD is currently working to automate field interviews and accident reports. There is a lot of time to be saved by automation.
Advanced Public Safety
Iowa Department of Transportation
Note: This list is not necessarily all-inclusive.