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Clocked and Cited

Officers slow down motorists by speeding up the ticket process.

From radar that clocks speeding vehicles to lasers that nab tailgaters, Oregon has long used technology to crack down on dangerous drivers. The state recently rolled out an electronic-citation system that automates the process of issuing traffic tickets.

After stopping a motorist, an officer uses a personal digital assistant (PDA) or notebook computer to scan the driver’s license data, clicks on an application to complete a citation, then sends it to a small mobile printer.

Because Oregon’s law enforcement ratio of 1.46 officers per 1,000 people falls below the national average of 2.4 per 1,000, the state must bolster worker productivity and improve efficiencies wherever it can. The e-citation system does exactly that, says Steve Vitolo, program manager with the Transportation Safety Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“We have to find ways to do more with less because we don’t have enough police on the road,” says Vitolo. “We can’t use our funding to hire more officers, but we can provide our officers with equipment that helps create efficiencies and makes their lower numbers more effective.”

Throughout the nation, electronic-ticket systems allow officers to issue citations to more traffic violators in a single shift. The faster they do this, the more time they have to monitor traffic and the less time their cruisers pose a roadside hazard to other motorists. Along with improving traffic safety, e-citations protect officers by reducing the amount of time they spend interacting with drivers.

Then there are the financial benefits. E-citation systems boost revenue, not only because they allow officers to write more tickets, but also because they reduce errors that result from illegible handwriting or missing information, which can get tickets thrown out of court. The technology also saves time by sending tickets to each law enforcement and county court’s database. In the past, police and court clerks had to retype paper-based ticket information into their databases, which not only was redundant but also created more opportunity to introduce errors.

In Oregon, about 20 percent of citations are dismissed because of errors made by officers when they fill out citations by hand; another 4 percent because of clerks who mistype the citation information, Vitolo says.

Implementers say the technology offers a good return on investment. E-citations have cut the average length of traffic stops in half, from about 12 minutes to roughly five to six minutes, Vitolo says. The ticketing technology also has reduced error rates from 10 percent to 2 percent in the San Jose (Calif.) Police Department, according to Lt. Ruben Chavez.

Oregon’s Keizer Police Department estimates the e-citation system it’s deploying this summer will reduce the amount of time spent issuing and processing tickets by 87 percent. That adds up to more than 1,000 personnel hours a year, or $24,000 — half the salary of a full-time employee, says Sgt. Lance Inman.

Ticketing Technology

Steve Vitolo, program manager with the Oregon Department of Transportation, develops innovative law-enforcement and education programs to curtail traffic deaths and injuries.

Robbie McClaran

Before deploying an $820,000 e-citation system last year, the San Jose Police Department piloted the technology with 50 traffic enforcement officers, most of whom are motorcycle cops. Since then, the city has purchased another 145 PDAs for use in patrol cars.

Along with customized e-ticketing software from 3i Infotech, the system includes the Intermec CN3 Mmobile Computer (which sports a rugged exterior, a qwerty keyboard, a touchscreen and a card swiper that reads driver’s licenses), Zebra Technologies’ RW 420 mobile printer and a mobile fingerprint scanner, says Chavez, who managed the project.

As officers swipe driver’s licenses, a card swiper automatically inputs the driver’s name and address. For drivers without a license in their possession, officers use fingerprint scanners to pull up files. They select the violation from a drop-down menu, and a court date, citation number and fine are automatically generated as part of the ticket.

In the past, an officer might have entered the wrong date for the driver’s court appearance, or might accidentally have left important boxes empty. “The software alleviates the problems because it checks everything before it allows us to complete a ticket,” Chavez says.

After inputting the data, the officer prints a copy of the ticket for the driver, using a mobile printer that can be placed between the seats in a squad car or in the trunk or saddlebag of a motorcycle. When the officer returns to the police station, the PDA is placed in a dock and all the tickets dispensed during the officer’s shift are uploaded to a server.

The data is housed initially on an SQL Server database and sent to the department’s own records-management system. The department also transmits the data to the court’s database through an encrypted File Transfer Protocol connection, says Margie Zamora, supervising applications analyst for San Jose. “We asked the courts what data they needed. We identified what the fields would be and ported it out in an XMmL-formatted file, and they take that and import it into their database,” she says.

No systems integration is required. Oregon, which uses mostly SQL Server databases in the state’s data center, transfers the data from police to the courts in much the same way. Law enforcement agencies rely on the application vendor to write a simple script that allows the data exchange, Vitolo says.

When San Jose’s officers dock their handheld computers, software updates or changes, such as updated city traffic violations, are automatically uploaded onto them, Zamora says. The San Jose Police Department plans to build a Wi-Fi network, so that when officers drive back to their stations, the PDAs will automatically sync and upload their citations onto the server, she says.

Margie Zamora and Cecil Lawson keep the San Jose Police Department’s e-citation system running smoothly.

Robert Houser

Overall, the e-citation technology makes a minimal impact on the police department’s network. Each ticket takes up 1 or 2 kilobytes, says Cecil Lawson, CIO of the San Jose PD. A ticket with a fingerprint takes up 4KB to 5KB.

“The technology works exceptionally well,” Lawson says. “It’s noninvasive to our network. It’s like a blip on the radar screen.”

Florida, too, is tapping e-citation technology. The Florida Hhighway Patrol uses a fully integrated system by CTS America that allows state troopers to write citations and collision reports electronically, as well as check the state’s Department of Motor Vehicle and criminal databases. It also includes GPS location tracking software.

“It’s about officer safety,” says Capt. Jeffrey Succi of the Florida Patrol. “We tie all our databases together. If I clock a car going at 100 mph, I can pull up behind the vehicle, type up the car’s tags, and in about 10 seconds, get a response on the driver’s license of the registered owner of the vehicle, and [find out] if the car is stolen. So even before I’ve stopped the car, I know everything about the car and its driver.”

In the early days, Florida connected to a Cellular Digital Packet Data connection that hit only 19.2 kilobits per second. It was so slow that troopers had to save their citations on a disk and then transfer the data later, says District Commander Succi. In 2003, the highway patrol outfitted each notebook computer with a cellular broadband card, which allowed troopers to upload the citations immediately to the state servers over a virtual private network.

Each of the state’s 10 troop divisions uploads e-citations to a server dedicated to their division. At 2 a.m. daily, those servers send their batch of e- citations to a main Florida Hhighway Patrol server in Tallahassee. At 8 a.m., the combined tickets are electronically dispatched to the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, and then pushed out to each county’s court at 10 a.m.

When Georgia and South Carolina install their e-citation systems, Florida will connect to them and share data, so that state troopers can check motorists’ driving records in nearby states. “If I stop a car in Orlando and may want to give the guy a warning, but I run his license and see that he’s been stopped for speeding through South Carolina and Georgia, I’m not going to give him a break,” Succi explains.

Upcoming IT Initiatives

Other law enforcement agencies are also working to improve their e-citation systems. Not only is San Jose planning to install Wi-Fi, but the police department also plans to use electronic field interview cards so that officers can type up their notes on a PDA or notebook.

Oregon, which has standardized on Intermec CN3 handhelds and Panasonic Toughbooks, installed electronic crash-reporting forms concurrently with its Advanced Public Safety e-citations technology. The state is also in the final phases of launching its Visual Statement ReportBeam geospatial mapping technology and web-based systems for querying criminal databases.

Since 2006, Oregon has granted $700,000 in federal funds to help some of its police departments and sheriff’s offices implement their own e-citation systems. Clackamas County was the first in Oregon to issue an e-citation, in late 2006, and others, such as the Keizer and Sherwood police departments, are going live with their systems this year. Vitolo says the technology is well worth the investment.

“It’s completely different from how we’ve issued tickets in the past,” Vitolo says. “But it’s a creative way for law enforcement to increase efficiencies and an innovative way to help reduce traffic death and injuries.”

E-Citations in Action

  1. An officer fills out an electronic citation on a PDA or notebook computer.
  2. The officer prints a copy of the ticket on a mobile printer and gives it to the driver.
  3. When the officer returns to the station, he docks the PDA and the ticket is transferred to a server. If the PDA or notebook computer has wireless connectivity, officers can upload data from the road.
  4. The police department uploads the information to the county court’s database at regular intervals through an FTP connection secured with 128-bit encryption. The technology supports any file format, including XML.

Spotting Traffic Trends

The state of California typically takes nine months to a year to crunch numbers and produce comprehensive collision reports that detail potential traffic hazards in each community. Bby the time city police departments and sheriff’s offices receive the reports, they are outdated. Now, thanks to new geospatial mapping technology, San Jacinto’s Police Department can analyze statistics in real time to improve traffic safety.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office runs San Jacinto’s police department, and arms its officers with Symbol M70 handhelds or notebooks to electronically complete e-citations and collision reports. Mapping technology allows them to create visual representations of that data, such as areas with high accident rates, says Sgt. Bbrian Tonseth, head of the traffic division at the San Jacinto Police Department.

For example, Tonseth recently studied the data and found that a high rate of collisions was concentrated in one city intersection. He redeployed his motorcycle officers to that area to keep red-light runners in check.

Sometimes engineering, not police enforcement, can solve the problem. Tonseth’s analysis found single-car collisions were occurring at an alarming rate on a rural stretch of roadway. “Cars were running off the road,” he says. Officers visited the area and discovered that the edge of the road wasn’t level. Bbecause of erosion, the dirt shoulder was much lower than the asphalt, so when cars hit the edge, they flipped over, he says. Tonseth called the public works department, whose workers filled in the shoulder to make it more level with the road.

Going to Court

In nine years, Steve Vitolo has never lost a case in traffic court.

Vitolo, a law enforcement program manager with the Transportation Safety Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation, is also a deputy sheriff for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to his full-time office job, he spends 50 to 70 hours a month on patrol. Nearly all the motorists he issues citations to plead guilty and pay their fines. They do so because he is fair and strikes a balance between education and enforcement, he says.

For example, when he sees aggressive drivers, he could cite them for multiple offenses, such as speeding, tailgating, failing to use a turn signal and flashing headlights at the vehicle in front of them when the violators are driving too close. “In warranted circumstances, I will give the person a break on some of the violations,” Vitolo says. “I issue a ticket for speeding and tailgating, the two top crash-causing violations in Oregon.”

In the rare case that a driver pleads not guilty, Vitolo goes to traffic court for the trial. He spends about two hours a month in court. The judge allows him to present his evidence first. Then the driver pleads his or her case. Vitolo then gets a final opportunity to address issues the driver brings up in testimony.

So far, Vitolo has a perfect record and credits his detailed note-taking. When he issues citations, he takes notes immediately after the driver has been released, detailing the observed violations and specifics regarding the traffic stop on his PDA. When a court case comes up, he can refer to his notes.

Technology such as radar equipment that demonstrates speeding or video cameras that show a motorist running a red light are also on the side of law enforcement in court.

Jul 07 2008

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