Report: Digitizing Va. State Police tickets could make traffic stops last half as long

By: - November 14, 2019 12:01 am
A parking lot outside a UVA dorm was filled with hundreds of state police cruisers on Wednesday afternoon. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - Aug. 8, 2018)

A parking lot outside a UVA dorm was filled with hundreds of state police cruisers in advance of the one year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in 2017. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury – Aug. 8, 2018)

No driver wants to sit on the side of the road upwards of 20 minutes waiting to get a speeding ticket. And with cars whooshing by a few feet away, state troopers don’t want to be stuck doing roadside paperwork any longer than they have to.

But there may be a way to make traffic stops less of a hassle for everybody, according to the Virginia State Police.

In Northern Virginia, the agency has started a two-year trial run of an electronic summons system that digitizes the ticket-writing process, allowing troopers to enter information into a computer – partially by scanning driver’s licenses and vehicle registration cards – instead of filling out paper forms by hand.

Since late June, troopers participating in the test have seen average traffic stop times drop from 26 minutes per ticket to 10 minutes per ticket, according to a new State Police report.

For the e-summons pilot program, participating state troopers are using Panasonic CF33 Toughbooks, which have removable monitors that work as standalone touchscreen tablets. The devices cost $7,442 each, according to an agency report. (Courtesy Virginia State Police)
For the e-summons pilot program, participating state troopers are using Panasonic ToughBook CF-33s, which have removable monitors that work as standalone touchscreen tablets. The devices cost $7,442 each, according to an agency report. (Courtesy Virginia State Police)

With the electronic ticketing system, the trooper still prints a paper copy to give to the driver. But case information is electronically transmitted to local courts, eliminating the need for manual data entry and cutting down on flubs caused by sloppy handwriting.

Policymakers are considering rolling out the new system to State Police patrol cars everywhere, but that may require General Assembly approval of a new, $5 fee for all traffic and criminal cases originated by the State Police.

In addition to getting both troopers and violators back on the road and out of harm’s way, faster traffic stops can also help clear congestion caused by rubbernecking drivers, according to State Police Lt. Col. Matthew D. Hanley.

“Our whole goal with this program is really to get what we have to do done as quickly as possible and get that road open,” said Hanley, director of VSP’s Bureau of Field Operations.

State Police have been testing a few different types of digital technology. One setup requires troopers to scan information in their in-car computer, but another lets troopers take a touchscreen device right up to a driver’s window.

Even some of the people unlucky enough to get ticketed that way, Hanley said, thought the new process was “pretty neat.”

“We hand them this little iPhone-looking thing and they sign their name with their finger,” Hanley said.

The system also enables the State Police to gather more precise data about where tickets are being handed out and who’s getting them, according to Hanley.

The test won’t be completed until next year, but some policymakers say the initial results show a strong case for expanding the program across the state.

Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, who helped establish the pilot program by sponsoring legislation to fund the e-summons system, said the initiative is “going exactly how we figured.”

“This just saves a lot of money and time,” Krizek said.

For a law enforcement agency that hands out around 500,000 tickets each year, the minutes no longer spent on paperwork add up.

The time saved by the new system, the agency said, was the equivalent of adding 11 troopers to the patrol division that includes Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties and the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax.

Implementing an e-summons system throughout the state – estimated to cost at least $5 million – would be functionally the same as adding 66 troopers, according to the State Police.

In 2018, the General Assembly budgeted almost $2 million for the pilot project in Northern Virginia.  That funding became available in July 2018. According to the report, negotiations with the third-party vendor, Tyler Technologies, were delayed as officials worked through data-security concerns to ensure the program complied with state IT rules for cloud-based services. The contract was finalized on June 28.

In its report to state lawmakers, the agency called the initial results “extremely promising and encouraging.”

“To this agency, the E-Summons pilot is already a resounding success,” the report says.

Several localities have already implemented an e-summons system. Under current law, cities and counties are allowed to charge a $5 fee for each traffic or criminal offense to fund the purchase of e-summons equipment and software.

If the State Police were given the option to charge the same fee on tickets they hand out, the report said, the agency could roll out the system across the state without having to ask the legislature for more money.

Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said officials are reviewing the report to decide whether the system should be expanded.

“Any time we increase fines or fees, we have to be judicious,” Moran said.

Krizek said he’s seen enough to consider reintroducing his bill to allow the State Police to assess the $5 fee to fund the system statewide.

“There’s no doubt that we would rather these state troopers be out there patrolling instead of doing handwritten tickets on the side of the road,” Krizek said.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]