Articles

Maryland State Police Overhauls its Vehicle Citation Process

Increased officer safety, improved efficiency and reduced paper use among benefits seen.

by / June 29, 2009

Maryland drivers will get speeding tickets and other citations faster than ever thanks to an electronic traffic information exchange (E-TIX) program implemented by the state police. With the simple scan of a driver's license bar code, police officers populate electronic citation forms on a laptop in the squad car. The officer selects the violations, prints the ticket, gives it to the driver and they both go their ways.

The process significantly reduces the time it takes an officer to complete a ticket or warning. It also improves the safety of drivers and officers because they get off the shoulder or roadside more quickly. And less paper is used by police departments and the District Court of Maryland system.

E-TIX was developed in-house by Cpl. Chris Corea of the Maryland State Police. Development began in September 2006, and Corea said implementation took about 18 months. The program is available to all Maryland police departments for free, but the departments must provide the necessary equipment, which includes a bar-code scanner, thermal printer, laptop and Wi-Fi connection. As of March 2009, Corea said nearly 35 Maryland police departments were using the technology.

Corea said it cost $300,000 to $400,000 to outfit the state police's vehicles with the necessary hardware. Much of that was covered by grants from the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Laws Hinder Efficiency

One of the main barriers to launching E-TIX was that state laws weren't conducive to a seamless electronic ticketing process. According to Corea, there were three obstacles:

  • Police couldn't send electronic data to the District Court's system.
  • The violator had to sign the ticket to acknowledge he or she received it, which prevented the process from becoming paperless.
  • Police officers were only allowed to put one citation on each piece of paper, which meant if the driver had four violations, each one had to be written out separately.

Getting the law changed so more than one citation could be on a piece of paper was a huge feat, said Corea. "We were able to get the laws changed so that as long as we have a citation number -- a control number -- per charge, we could do more than one per piece of paper," he explained.

The state police also had to complete a certification process with the District Court before it was allowed to electronically send information to the court system. Corea said the state police sent about 300 different test cases, and the court checked the data by running it through its system to ensure it worked correctly. In March 2008, the District Court granted the state police certification to issue electronic citations.

Speedy Scan

A bar-code scanner retrieves information on a driver's license from the two-dimensional bar code -- what looks like a scrambled box -- and inputs it into the E-TIX system. The information populates the traffic-violations form so the police officer doesn't have to manually fill out a citation or warning. The officer then selects the proper violations on-screen.

Corea said the main driver for the project was officer safety. "It was not to generate more funding, and it wasn't to increase statistics or traffic stops or anything like that," he said. "Because I was an officer and I'm a state trooper, I had the perspective of an officer when I built it, so it was an officer-safety issue."

E-TIX speeds up the citation process and gets the officer and violator off the side of the road faster. Corea said completing tickets took eight to 10 minutes per citation using the old process. If the person had three violations, it could take 30 minutes. The new system has reduced

that time to four to five minutes no matter how many violations the citizen is being charged with.

Scanning the driver's license also reduces any errors that might be made when the information is manually entered into the laptop or handwritten on a citation form. E-TIX won't allow the officer to print the ticket or warning unless all information is completed. "All the records clerks liked it because you never again get a piece of paper that has a box missing, because the software won't let you continue if you forgot to put in what type of car it was, what area you're in or some of the codes that are required," said Deputy Nick McGowan of the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

According to Corea, some information can be changed after the driver's license has been scanned. For example, if the driver's license contains a person's old last name or address, the officers can change the information after scanning the license into the computer. However, fields that cannot be changed are the driver's license number, the state the license was issued in, and the person's sex and date of birth.

Complete Driver Profiles

The new system also gives officers more information about an offender. For instance, officers will know if the person's information has previously been run through the E-TIX system.

"It will tell you if they've been stopped before, and it will tell you how many times," McGowan said. "Then you can push one of the icons and see why they were stopped, who stopped them, where it was, when it was, why they were stopped, and whether they got a ticket for it or a warning."

Corea said E-TIX gives officers a more complete picture of the person they've stopped.

Starting in mid-2008, Maryland began issuing vehicle registration cards with two-dimensional bar codes. Police officers using E-TIX can scan the bar-coded registration cards into the system, which makes the citation process even quicker and smoother. However, the state's registration cards are renewed every two years, so it won't be until mid-2010 that all vehicles will have the updated cards.

End-User Perspective

McGowan tested E-TIX on behalf of the Harford County Sheriff's Office. Since it's just a trial run, he only uses the system to issue warnings, and the sheriff's office hasn't been certified to send information to the District Court. McGowan had to add a bar-code scanner, printer and mounting hardware to his squad car, which cost about $1,200. However, he said if an agency made its own mounting hardware it could lower the cost by about $200.

McGowan gives E-TIX a positive review. He demonstrated the system for the sheriff's command staff and recommended that the office purchase the hardware for more squad cars. "We sent proposals to buy 10, 20, 30, 40, because everybody's budgets are being reduced and they have to decide how many units they want to buy," he said. Harford County has 200 sheriff's vehicles that could be equipped with E-TIX, but McGowan said it will start with the vehicles of the officers who write the most tickets.

Corea and Sgt. Doug Baralo of the Maryland State Police host three-hour training sessions for all the state's police jurisdictions to learn how to use E-TIX. Corea said training is important because the product is still changing constantly. As of March 2009 they had completed more than 60 training sessions across the state. Officers complete practice traffic stops during the training so they can become comfortable with the system before using it in the field.

Elaine Rundle Staff Writer