Traffic stops get easier

The Baltimore Sun

No one likes getting pulled over for speeding.

But Howard County police promise that a new technology deployed recently at least makes such stops more convenient for highway scofflaws.

More than 50 county cruisers have been equipped with a system developed by the Maryland State Police that allows officers to issue electronic traffic citations more quickly and in a less-messy form.

With the new system, called E-TIX, officers scan the driver's license, select the violation and print a copy of the citation on waterproof, hard-to-rip thermal paper. The information automatically goes to the state court system - and the process takes about three to five minutes.

Aside from the state police, Howard is the first jurisdiction to begin using the system, said Cpl. David Proulx, who works in the department's computer operations and mobile data section. In addition to making for a more legible and less error-prone ticket, the system allows agencies across Maryland to share information in real time.

The system is also intended to decrease the time officers spend on the side of the road with drivers, reducing the risk of accidents, said Lt. Daniel Coon, of the department's information and technology management section. While it takes an average of eight to 10 minutes to complete a handwritten citation, the electronic ticket takes about three to five minutes to issue, he said.

And while the traditional citation requires a separate ticket for each violation, the new system allow up to four violations on one citation.

"Errors and omissions that you have with handwritten citations are eliminated," Proulx said.

So far this year in Howard, department clerical staff members have spent more than 4,200 hours on manual data entry for traffic citations, Coon said. The department expects that number to drop substantially once the new system is in full-swing.

State police finished developing the software about 18 months ago and have offered it to any law enforcement agency in Maryland for free, Proulx said. The agencies pay only for the hardware installation and technical support.

Howard paid for those costs with a $48,000 state grant that was awarded in the spring, said Sherry Llewellyn, a department spokeswoman. About 30 agencies are using the system, and more than 1,000 officers are certified to use it statewide, state police said.

About 100 officers in Howard are trained to use the system, undergoing three hours of training and completing 50 practice stops before being certified to issue real citations, Proulx said.

Howard began training in early October, and since then, officers have made more than 3,300 traffic stops and issued citations for more than 4,300 violations, Coon said.

When a driver is pulled over, the officer scans the driver's license. Most of the driver's personal information is added to the citation by the computer, allowing the officer to pay more attention to the surroundings than to copying data.

The officer chooses the violation from a menu in the computer system. With the handwritten tickets, the officers were required to search through a thick manual of violations and calculate the fines accordingly. With E-TIX, the computer calculates the fine after the officer enters basic information such as the posted speed limit and the driver's speed. If certain fields are left blank or filled in wrong, the system alerts the officer and bars the ticket from going through.

"All that information is done for the officer. ... That's a big timesaver as well as corrects a lot of errors," Proulx said.

The new system allows the officers to see traffic stops for other jurisdictions that use the same system, Coon said. If a driver were pulled over in Howard County and then in Montgomery County an hour later, for example, the Montgomery County officer would be able to see the previous traffic stop.

"This system allows for unprecedented data-sharing between agencies," Coon said.

When completed and submitted by the officer, the citation is transmitted to the court system data base. The driver receives a copy churned out by a small printer in the police cruiser.

Howard plans to gradually add the system to all of the cruisers in the department's 170-car fleet as funding allows, Llewellyn said.

"The ultimate goal is to outfit all the cars with the technology," Llewellyn said.

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