For local police, are electronic citations the new normal?

For local police, are electronic citations the new normal?

Police in Pennsylvania’s Sugarloaf Township recently implemented a computerized ticketing system because it is easier, faster, reduces paperwork and errors, and keeps citizens’ private information more securely than paper tickets.

The department went paperless because the system improves accuracy and efficiency, gives officers more time to handle other police work and reduces storage space requirements, Police Chief Joshua Winters told The Standard Speaker.

Another Pennsylvania police department – Hazleton - went live with its version of the system in the first week of June, said Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea. Officers will enter traffic ticket information at the police station – rather than roadside -- because of the cost involved in outfitting its fleet with mounted computers, printers and scanners.

Sugarloaf Township and Hazleton are only two of the many police departments around the country using electronic ticketing technology. Some of these jurisdictions include Lexington, Tenn., which implemented its system in 2015; Little Rock, Ark., which launched its system in 2013; and Chattanooga, Tenn., which announced it purchased the technology in early 2015. The California Highway Patrol began testing an electronic traffic citations system in September 2011.

Before Sugarloaf Township’s electronic system, officers wrote out tickets by hand, which may have discouraged them from writing multiple citations because each offense required a separate ticket. According to Winters, each ticket must contain magisterial district judge information; the driver’s address, birthdate and name; vehicle information; owner information; charges; statutes; fines; and location, date, time and county of the offense; and the officer’s name, badge number and address.

Those tickets then needed to be dropped off at the court, and the information manually re-entered into the state’s court system. Poor handwriting and clerical errors caused additional issues. And officers then had to keep hard copies of hand-written citations for three years, a space constraint in small, local police stations. The new system, Winters said, eliminates paper, filing, data re-entry and multiple trips each week to the judge’s office to drop off the citations.

In addition to the software, two of the department’s four police vehicles are outfitted with a laptop, scanner and printer. Officers can then print a hard copy for the motorist and copies are immediately sent to the district judge and the police station electronically.

Police now can more easily issue multiple citations with an “add charge” feature instead of creating a new citation from scratch.  Officers also can look up ticket information; generate traffic reports, and find information by name, age, type of ticket, fine amount, location and time frame, Winters said. He envisions the same system being used to issue non-traffic summary offenses like violations for harassment, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and local ordinance violations.

The system also helps the court, said Sugarloaf Township Magisterial District Judge Daniel O’Donnell. Now staff only needs to download information, rather than type the citation information into their system, trimming the time needed to enter in information and reducing potential errors.

While administrative costs and efficiencies are a driving the use of electronic citation systems, they are not the only motivators. Safety is another. A key reason Maryland adopted the technology was to reduce an officer’s risk of death or injury from cars driving by while issuing a citation, according to Police Chief magazine.

In Oregon, electronic ticketing made the police more efficient, which then maximized the time they could spend patrolling the roads making the highways safer, Steve Vitolo, of the Oregon Department of Transportation, told Police magazine. He said he also believes they systems curb crime because officers can make more traffic stops. "The bad guys are driving cars," Vitolo said. "In Oregon, 80 percent of felony arrests occur because of traffic stops."

Local police agencies in Oregon began using electronic ticketing in 2004; in 2013, approximately 25 percent of the state’s police agencies, including the entire Oregon State Police, were using the e-citation system. According to  Oregon’s Governors Highway Safety Association, the technology has increased Oregon’s ability to analyze data, improve data accuracy and timeliness, foster data sharing and develop targeted responses to safety problems.

The hardware required to support any e-citation system could be dictated by state laws, noted PoliceOne.com. If the state requires a signature from the violator, then the officer will need a handheld computer that can capture it. Officers may need a scanner to scan a bar code on a driver’s licenses or a card reader for a magnetic strip on a license. Other options include a mobile printer and wireless access to transmit or receive data.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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