Electronic Citations Help Law Enforcement Reduce Traffic-Ticket Errors

Electronic citation system cuts typos and speeds traffic cases to court in San Jose, Calif.

by , / February 7, 2008
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Back in 2006, the San Jose, Police Department (SJPD) issued paper citations that took three weeks to process. But now, thanks to an electronic citation system implemented in 2007, officers issue more accurate tickets and the courts process them more quickly.

Located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, San Jose has long prided itself for being technologically ahead of the game. So it should come as no surprise that in mid-2007, the SJPD brought some bad news to the city's boozers and speed demons: The eCitation system - designed by Intermec Inc. in collaboration with 3i Infotech - was rolled out to more than 50 officers, who now carry handheld computers loaded with the eCitation software. Additional units are on the way to 100 more SJPD officers.

"This is an entirely new platform," said SJPD Lt. Ruben Chavez, project manager of the eCitation system. The software reduces the percentage of citations that have errors, from 10 percent down to 2 percent.

"Accuracy is ensured at the front end when the officers are issuing the citation," he said. "For efficiency, that is 3,800 tickets [per year] that no one has to complete a quality-control review or retype all the data. It is extremely efficient."

With more than 4,000 citations issued since the new system went online July 30, 2007, both efficiency and accuracy have improved, and officers can complete their jobs more quickly.

Paper citations issued by the SJPD took three weeks to process, said Ramesh Narayanaswamy, president of government services at 3i Infotech. "This included copying, filing, hand sorting and hand entering them into a records department and then sending them to the court, which had to key-enter them into the court system for processing," he said. With the new system, the citations automatically are sent to court after a 48-hour waiting period.

"This wait period has been incorporated to allow officers to add notes and dismiss [or] amend citations if and when required," Narayanaswamy said. "Otherwise, these tickets could be automatically routed immediately."

The eCitation system also allows officers to nab more offending drivers.

"The most significant productivity feature in the application allows users to perform a 'make similar' [function] to any ticket they have written," Narayanaswamy said, "so subsequent tickets can be written very quickly, without having to re-enter data."

Though writing tickets more quickly is a nice benefit, it wasn't the goal of the system, he said, noting that the ultimate objective was to reduce the error rate and redundant entries. "When the full complement of officers is using the new eCitation system, a significant productivity improvement will be realized on the order of a 10 percent to 15 percent error and redundancy reduction."

Enforcement Integration
The court system in Santa Clara County, where San Jose is located, processes more than 250,000 traffic tickets per year.

The courts have been involved with the eCitation system since its inception. The system now is fully integrated for all violations heard in traffic court.

Because the system integrates with the courts and other branches of law enforcement, processing these tickets is streamlined and there is no risk of lost paperwork or misinterpretation of what is written. The technology cuts time spent processing citations for the other departments involved.

Officers enter the citation on a handheld computer, print a copy of the citation on a mobile printer and issue it to the driver, and then at the end of their shift - or if they drive by a wireless access point - officers upload the citations to the central server, Narayanaswamy said. "This data is processed, updates the current records database, and after a 48-hour wait period, they are electronically sent to the Santa Clara court system."

Also, the system's accuracy reduced fine disputes and other violator protests often heard

within the judicial system.

Although the traffic courts are the only part of the judicial system currently linked to eCitation, the police department also plans to link eCitation with the Criminal Justice Information Center to allow criminal citations to be produced in the same manner.

San Jose's system has a number of advanced features, such as capturing fingerprints in the handheld application in the field; capturing photographs for each citation; automatically syncing data from the handheld to the server; and capturing data electronically, not only for citations, but also for collision reports, vehicle reports, field investigations, driver's license suspension/revocation and driver re-examination.

After a driver's license is scanned, the information is transferred to a small printer mounted inside the officer's vehicle. A simple electronic signature, similar to those used in retail stores, is all it takes to receive the citation and get a motorist back on his or her way.

With quicker turnaround and more accurate record keeping, the only thing left in question was SJPD personnel's response to the switchover. According to Chavez, the force embraced the philosophy that change is good, and every officer is now on board.

"As with anything involving change, there are perception and workflow issues that need to be overcome," Chavez said, "but it has occurred, and the officers who are not computer savvy love it and don't want to go back [to the old systems]."

While the eCitation system has eased the workload of the SJPD and its affiliates, it isn't flawless.

Officers have reported approximately half of California drivers' licenses cannot be scanned due to age or everyday wear and tear. As drivers' licenses are renewed, the older versions will be phased out and more cards will be compatible with the system. Wear and tear eventually will happen with newer licenses, so officers can enter, when needed, all the license data by hand.

Another eCitation challenge is out-of-state licenses, which still need to be added into the technology. Though they can't be scanned, the driver's license number can be entered into the eCitation system manually. "The number of out-of-state licenses is currently very minimal," Narayanaswamy said. "It will be added as requirements warrant this addition to the project."

San Jose is the first California city to use such an advanced system, and more cities within Santa Clara County are being encouraged to adopt the updated technology so police departments can become interlinked. Also, because this application uses California Highway Patrol-approved and required forms, Narayanaswamy said 3i Infotech is working with several other California cities to implement this solution in 2008.

Funding The System
San Jose paid for the eCitation system with the aid of five grants as well as extensive planning. For a year, Lt. Gary Kirby of SJPD's Research and Development Unit worked on how to fund the system, and he pieced together the income needed by receiving portions of the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, Justice Assistance Grant, Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Fund, the Certified Law Enforcement Executive Program, and Urban Area Security Initiative funding.

In total, the system's purchase and implementation cost the city $782,000. Because the system is still so new, monetary return on investment is unknown, but less labor-intensive processing is already proving it's worth the investment.

"While it's too early in the project to estimate the actual savings to San Jose, the goals of the eCitation project were to reduce the error rate, which required a full-time person to conduct quality control, and another to process amendments and dismissal requests," Narayanaswamy said. "The major staffing changes were the reduction of the staff that had to manually input all the data. This was extremely labor intensive for both the courts and SJPD, and has resulted in the reduction of these tasks.

"These tasks will all be eliminated when all officers are entering electronic citations. Already, the project has reduced hours, errors -- and improved the efficiency."

Jessica Jones Associate Editor
Tamara Warta Staff Writer
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