Traffic tickets to go high-tech

The Baltimore Sun

Unreadable handwritten tickets and a 25-minute traffic stop might soon be things of the past for Howard County residents.

The Howard County Police Department has received a grant of more than $48,000 from the state to begin purchasing equipment to issue electronic citations, commonly called e-citations.

The hope is to eliminate unnecessary paper use, cut traffic stop time and reduce chances of error, said Capt. Glenn Hansen, commander of the department's Information and Technology Management Bureau.

Officers now must hand-write a separate traffic ticket for each violation. If, for example, a driver is speeding and is not wearing a seat belt, the officer fills out the same license and registration information twice. The average ticket takes eight to 12 minutes to write.

All speeding citations must be typed in by Police Department staff members, then mailed to the state District Court in Annapolis, where they must again be processed by hand. In 2006, county police issued more than 66,000 traffic citations, Hansen said.

"It's a very slow process, it uses a lot of paper and it sets up multiple opportunities for error," he said.

With the electronic citations, however, most of the ticket is filled out automatically by the computer after the officer enters tag and license numbers. Up to four charges can be listed on the same sheet of paper, which is printed out in the officer's car and handed to the driver. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill in May making it unnecessary for violators to sign the e-citations, as they do the handwritten.

The citation is sent automatically to the Police Department and the District Court, eliminating the need for manual data entry.

The grant, which came from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, will be used for hardware in police cruisers, including printers and license scanners.

Initially, 40 cars will be equipped once the department determines which software program to use, Hansen said. But he doesn't have a timetable for the process.

Although the New Carrollton City Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the state certified to issue electronic tickets, about 30 other departments have expressed interest in starting such programs, said Nancy Harris, a senior technical specialist with the District Court, which is in charge of certifying the software programs.

The Maryland State Police expect to start issuing electronic citations by the end of the month, said Cpl. Chris Corea, who has developed the agency's software. Howard County is considering using the same software.

Although some 20 departments in the state plan to use the state police software once it is ready, the Howard Police Department is exploring other vendors who might be able to create software that would be more beneficial in the future, Hansen said. He said the department has a long-term goal of implementing automated field reporting, which allows officers to create and submit police reports from their cruisers, rather than the current process of waiting until the end of the day, writing and printing out the reports and submitting them to supervisors.

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