Sand Springs, Oklahoma, is a growing city of residential houses and small businesses just west of Tulsa. With a police department of 24, Sand Springs must use its limited law enforcement resources efficiently to ensure the safety of its citizens and officers.
The Sand Springs Police Department had recognized for some time that issuing handwritten tickets for traffic citations was a practice that needed to be changed. Handwritten tickets have a number of problems:
- Although not immediately apparent, writing a traffic citation is one of the more dangerous situations that police officers routinely encounter. A 2004 study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that being struck by another vehicle is the third leading cause of death for on-duty police officers. A significant number of these deaths occur while officers are writing routine roadside traffic tickets. Traditional paper tickets are part of the problem, because they take a lot of time to write and consume a lot of the officer's attention, thereby increasing the risks of injury or death from passing vehicles.
- Paper tickets are also labor-intensive and error-prone. Time spent writing tickets is time subtracted from other patrol duties. In addition, poor penmanship, dark nights, bad weather, and human nature can contribute to handwritten tickets that end up being dismissed in court as being incomplete, erroneous, or unreadable. Even when a paper-based system works perfectly, the effort to process a handwritten ticket is just beginning when the ticket is issued. Data entry clerks must manually key the information into one or more records management systems, and then update those systems indefinitely. Again, this not only adds time, but also increases chances for errors.
While electronic ticketing technology has been available to do this, it was lacking in some ways. Only recently has the technology become reliable and economical enough for many police departments to seriously consider taking the step to utilize the technology.
In early 2009, learning that other police departments such as those in Tulsa as well as in some jurisdictions in Florida, Maryland, Arizona, and California, had implemented electronic citation processing (known as eCitation or eTicketing) and experienced good results, the City of Sand Springs decided it was time to seriously consider the technology.
"One reason we got interested is that, due to budget cuts, we had developed a philosophy of wanting to touch each part of our operation only one time, such as a report or citation," explains Mike Carter, assistant chief of police. "We didn't want multiple places of entry. The city manager said that no new programs could be introduced unless they could pay for themselves and could offer long-term savings." Electronic ticketing seemed to be a good fit. "We took a leap of faith," he continues. "We allocated drug fund money and grant money."
Sand Springs began evaluating several eTicketing solutions, finally settling on the design proposed by Saltus Technologies (Tulsa, Oklahoma), a system integrator that specializes in mobile applications. "We selected Saltus because they had been established in mobile technology for a long time and were now entering into law enforcement technology," continues Carter.
The solution consists of digiTICKET software that was developed by Saltus, the Intermec CN50 handheld computer, and the Datamax-O'Neil microFlash 4te wireless thermal printer.
"Reliability and ease of use were the highest priorities for the Sand Springs system," reports Shawn Sicking, a director at Saltus. "Reliability is always critical for law enforcement. The Sand Springs Police Department was particularly interested in ease of use, because that's how you reduce the officer's roadside exposure time."
To issue a ticket with the system, the officer first scans the offender's driver's license, accurately capturing all of the information on it. The officer then selects the appropriate statute violation(s) from drop-down menus. Using the CN50 handheld computer, the officer can take a photograph of the offender, an accident scene, and/or specific documents. Next, the offender's signature is captured via a touchscreen.
Then, the Datamax-O'Neil 4te (which is connected to the CN50 by a wireless Bluetooth radio connection), prints a hard copy of the ticket, which is then given to the offender. "For the overall system to succeed, the printer has to be rugged," adds Sicking. "In the Sand Springs system, there is a strict up-time requirement of 99.9% for the printer. A prime reason for our choosing the Datamax-O'Neil 4te is that it allows us to satisfy this customer requirement."
At the end of the shift, the officer docks the CN50 on a cradle back on the station, at which time all of the stored ticketing information is automatically uploaded to the records management system.
The Sand Springs Police Department rolled out a pilot program of the technology in March 2009 with seven officers. "We expected to see some improvement, but our actual results were better than anticipated," reports Carter. Besides printing out tickets legibly, accurately, and reliably, the system has allowed the officers to issue tickets in about one-third the time needed to issue handwritten tickets. The technology was rolled out to the whole department in late 2009.
"Overall, it has been a very successful endeavor to this point," continues Carter. "Our officers are happier. Any time you introduce change, there is some reluctance. However, our officers now rely on the technology." They still have their paper ticket books available in case the system is down, although that has happened only one time. The system was down one day for a system upgrade, and the officers complained about not having their devices. "They like the idea of being able to get off their traffic stops quicker," adds Carter. In addition, the technology is so user-friendly that the officers adapted to it very quickly.
The technology continues to evolve. "Our guys have come up with a few ideas over the past few months that they wanted to see incorporated into the software, and Saltus has looked at these and implemented some of these changes," states Carter. Saltus has also approached Sand Springs with ideas to make the system faster and more user-friendly.
One current idea being studied is the possibility of using the technology's GPS capabilities while recording accident scenes. "Right now, the guys have to use tape measures," states Carter. "We would like to see if the GPS capabilities can handle this in the future."