Economic woes continue to sucker-punch our nation, and I d be willing to bet you ve felt the pinch with less available overtime, a cut in benefits or decreasing opportunities for off-duty jobs. Our personal budget crises are tough enough, but we've also been left pretty much on our own to find solutions to our departments financial challenges.
Case in point: the advent of e-ticketing, also known as electronic citations. A system that can quickly process and spit out a ticket for traffic offenders and get the officer out of harm s way and back to proactively policing the roads is important enough that many governments should make it a priority. With the benefits of increased safety for our officers, increased revenue, safer roadways and less paperwork, e-ticketing seems like a no-brainer. For some agencies and their governing supervisors, it is, but others remain unconvinced.
This article will address how e-ticketing works and the benefits it offers. Two examples a state where the implementation is a huge success and a metropolis where the police are struggling to win their city council over to execute the system provide valuable lessons for how to forge ahead with an e-ticketing implementation of your own.
E-ticketing has gained massive popularity in public service agencies in North America in just the past three years. Police officers swipe an offender s driver s license with a handheld barcode reader or use a scanner to read the license and vehicle registration. The officer s mobile computer then displays the screen that starts the process of issuing a citation. In many programs, information fields are prepopulated and include information from the license and registration. The officer generally chooses from pull-down menus to input the appropriate code violations and other necessary information. Multiple violations are easy to add to one ticket. The entire record of the transaction is saved, a paper copy is printed out in the officer s car for the driver, and the officer wirelessly uploads the citation to their department and other required court and state databases.
The required time to accomplish all this? Approximately three to four minutes a vast reduction of the standard 10- to 20-minute time period an officer spends writing out a pen-and-paper ticket (and don t forget to press hard for those carbon copies!).
The benefits of such a system are numerous and include:
Success Story in the Making
Indiana s foray into electronic ticketing began in 1999, with an edict from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to comply with reporting requirements of traffic convictions for those with commercial driver s licenses (CDL). If the state did not substantially comply with the regulations by July 2008, it faced losing millions of dollars in highway funding. The state found that a uniform traffic ticket for all offenders would bring it into compliance and assist judges and prosecutors by swiftly providing them the correct information.
Another driving force was the Indiana Supreme Court s Judicial Technology and Automation Committee (JTAC), which provides leadership and governance regarding the use of technology in the Indiana courts. JTAC had already set in place an electronic, court case management system, and wanted to further increase the efficiency of movement of information between officers, prosecutors and courts by focusing on the initiator of the process, the law enforcement officer. In early 2007, with the support and partnership of the Indiana State Police, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute and many other state and local police agencies, as well as $2.4 million in federal grants, JTAC began developing the revolutionary software.
Working with a software company called TAG, JTAC designed an intuitive program, called Electronic Citation and Warning System (eCWS), that would meet the goal of enforcing the law more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before. Preliminary field testing by the Indiana State Police was successful, and the full program rolled out Jan. 1, 2008.
Since the time the system debuted until press time, More than 806,000 tickets and warnings have been uploaded to the e-Citation Central Repository [the main database accessible by all relevant government parties], says Mary DePrez, JTAC Director and Counsel for Trial Courts and Technology. JTAC is also working to electronically file past handwritten tickets to the state s court case management system. JTAC works closely with each agency using the application, and officers have an ownership interest in eCWS because they were at the table in its design and development.
There are currently 53 police agencies in Indiana using the software system, which is provided free of charge by JTAC.
Officer safety can t be measured, DePrez says. Officers tell us that they can write a ticket in half the time it took to write a paper ticket. This gets both the officer and the driver off the side of the road faster.
JTAC and TAG have not stopped innovating. They ve developed a handheld application that was recently deployed, and JTAC is currently building interfaces between the citation database and each individual agency's records management systems.
Indiana s success story provides an important lesson for law enforcement agencies: When local, state and national governments realize the necessity of implementing and improving technology to aid both themselves and patrol officers, everyone can effectively work together to create a system that works on all levels. It s not a mere issue of safety for law enforcement; it's a transformation that addresses everyone s needs.
Fighting for Technology & Safety
The Tulsa (Okla.) Police Department (TPD) has been less successful in its struggle to bring e-ticketing to the city. Corporal Will Dalsing of the TPD's Crime Analysis, Planning, Evaluation and Research section has spearheaded the initiative since 2007. The goal, he says, is to eliminate the arcane, cumbersome and inefficient process of handwriting paper citations.
The TPD's preliminary plan was strongly supported by City Councilman John Eagleton, who championed the cause to his colleagues on the board for months before the issue was brought to the table. Cpl. Dalsing appeared before the City Council in October 2007 to plead his case and explained how switching to electronic tickets would decrease the time taken to issue citations by up to 70%, and also reduce costs related to citations by up to 70%.
The first phase of the start-up cost was estimated at $300,000 to equip 50 officers. The city s finance department asked councilors for four weeks to look into ways to cover the start-up costs before the Council voted on whether to implement the system. That s when the project started spiraling downward.
Dalsing issued a request for bids (RFB) in December 2007. From that point on, there were misunderstandings, additional bid requests and cancellations, and miscommunications between the City Council, the mayor and the police department. [The city s Information Technology (IT) department was undergoing a massive reorganization during that time, and citywide project parameters and deadlines were adjusted on a regular basis.] The mayor and her office were consumed with the new structuring and trying to reorganize financial priorities. As the transformation continued, the e-ticketing initiative, although still strongly backed by the City Council and the police department, was lost in the shuffle.
Eventually, the Council took a decisive step forward and voted to shop around for an electronic citation system. The bid went out to several vendors, and the push through for financing and approval from the mayor was put on hold while Dalsing and Tulsa PD reviewed the bids and selected a vendor.
Next, in late October 2008, the Council considered using the surplus from a sales tax package to fund the e-ticketing project, but eventually tabled the discussion, stating that using funds allocated by city ordinance would be inappropriate until every penny had been accounted for.
And so the project stays in limbo for now, crippled by politics. Eagleton and Dalsing remain hopeful, however. I believe the other councilors, in their desire to be prudent financially, have made a tragic and sad decision to put off what would have saved lives, Eagleton says. I strongly desire to make this work, so I will put up with the time delay.
(As of press time, the initiative is still on the back burner. In January, the City Council drafted a list of policy and budget priorities for their next fiscal year, which begins in July 2009. An electronic citations system has a spot on the public safety agenda, but figures in among dozens of other capital improvement measures the Council hopes to implement.)
It's worth the time to explore e-ticketing because it can make your job immeasurably safer. As evidenced by Tulsa s stop-start handling of the issue, you'll likely come up against resistance at some point. Don't take it personally. Those in charge of running the government show, who have never spent a day in a patrol car, may impede your progress. For others, the change is too challenging and they will cling to the old dog way of doing things.
Chances are e-ticketing is a positive solution for a variety of problems at your agency, your courts and Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Do your research (see Scot Haug s February 2007 article, The Ticket to Efficiency available on lawofficer.com) and develop a comprehensive plan with solid data to back you up. Sure, the economy s in the dumpster, but is officer safety something that can be compromised when there are affordable solutions?
Think of it this way: It's not a budget problem; it's a budget priority.
E-Ticketing Vendor Resources