‘Traffic Stop’ Mobile App Improves Officer Safety, Efficiency

In Pennsylvania, a new app serves as "one-stop shopping" for officers when they're in a vulnerable situation.

by / June 26, 2015

Police officers in Pennsylvania now have access to a new mobile Web application designed to improve the safety and efficiency of traffic stops. The Traffic Stop application is available through the Pennsylvania Justice Network (JNET) and combines data from multiple sources, including PennDOT, Pennsylvania State Police, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the Department of Human Services.

“Traffic Stop is essentially ‘one-stop shopping’ for officers when they are in one of their more vulnerable situations – on the side of a road, approaching a vehicle,” said Eric Webb, executive director of JNET. “The app runs a number of transactions for the officer with one query and gets the data back to him or her almost immediately, saving the officer a significant amount of time figuring out who they are dealing with and whether or not to expect any issues with that traffic stop.”

JNET – a secure portal used by authorized criminal justice and public safety professionals in Pennsylvania to access data from local, state and federal agencies – has been around since the late 1990s. It was first developed to provide law enforcement access to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photos, and additional applications, databases and interfaces have been added over the years. Until now, the system has required officers to query multiple databases independently, which was often time-consuming. 

“It became obvious there was a need to start integrating everything, so we purchased an enterprise service bus that could orchestrate where we need services between multiple data sets,” said Webb. “As we became more familiar with that technology and started building out services with it, we knew in the long term we wanted to build something like Traffic Stop, where we would take a number of transactions on behalf of an officer and orchestrate them in such a way to make his or her job easier, quicker and ultimately safer.”

During a traffic stop, an officer can enter a license plate to determine if the vehicle is stolen or has expired registration. With a driver’s license number or name and date of birth, the mobile-friendly Traffic Stop application will let the officer know if a person is wanted, or has active warrants, protection from abuse orders, or a suspended or revoked license. Previously an officer would have had to conduct as many as six different searches within JNET to gather the same information. At times, officers would search only NCIC – the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database – to save time. But NCIC does not include civil matters such as child support warrants or domestic relations warrants. 

“With Traffic Stop, the officer makes one query and all the databases are searched; any warnings are returned to the officer in a clean, mobile friendly presentation,” said Webb. “The officer can glance at the data and make a determination on a number of issues very quickly. Officers spend less time looking up information and are alerted sooner to potentially dangerous situations. The quicker you can identify a dangerous individual, the quicker the officer can be prepared and the safer it is for them.”

Traffic Stop also means officers spend less time on each stop. 

“It speeds up the whole process, from engaging an individual to clearing or citing them, etc.,” said Webb. “By shaving five or 10 minutes off every stop, we’re definitely seeing some efficiencies.”

Officers who do not have access to a mobile data terminal can call into the 911 data center and have an operator run a Traffic Stop query for them.

Since April, officers have conducted more than 47,000 person and vehicle inquiries using the Traffic Stop application. Webb said feedback from users has been overwhelmingly positive.

Although Pennsylvania is unique in that it has JNET, which was developed exclusively for sharing information between criminal justice entities within the state, Webb said other states can still take advantage of technology to design similar apps.

“The key is having a service-oriented architecture where you have distinct Web services that are reusable and available,” he said. “It’s really about starting at the bottom and making sure you have services built to your data sets that are specific enough that they can be used and reused in ways you probably can’t even yet imagine.”

Justine Brown Contributing Writer