Massachusetts state troopers soon will toss handwritten tickets in favor of electronic citations to save money and time, and local police across the state could eventually follow suit.
State police using the system will swipe or scan a driver's license to call up a motorist's driving record. A trooper will enter the location and type of violation, then print an e-ticket, all using a dash-mounted laptop.
State officials say the technology cuts paperwork, while also making citations and crash data instantly available to courts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the state’s Merit Rating Board, which compiles data on driving records. Parking officers in Boston and other cities use a similar e-ticket system, but police across the state write tickets for moving violations with pen and paper.
“Everything about this system will be fully automated,” said Curt Wood, undersecretary for forensic science and technology in the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. “So when a police officer pulls you over, they’ll be entering your data into a laptop or handheld device and issuing a ticket."
For the past year, state troopers, including several officers from the Danvers barracks that patrols the North Shore, and police in Springfield, Framingham and Lowell, have tested software for the system as part of a trial funded with a $1.9 million federal grant. The software system, which cost about $1.8 million, was developed by X-Fact, a North Andover company under contract with the state.
The Legislature recently approved $35 million in borrowing to install the system in thousands of cruisers — $15 million for state police and $20 million for local police departments. Lawmakers still must vote to allow police to issue e-tickets and accept electronic signatures of violators before the system can be implemented, Wood said.
Officers now produce five copies of written citations — a tedious exercise meant to create records for the motorist, police department, local courts and an officer’s personal files. Illegible writing or paperwork that moves slowly through the system can complicate matters, Wood said.
“It’s a very cumbersome process," he said.
At least a dozen other states — including New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, California and Alabama – have switched to e-tickets. Police officials in those states say the technology saves time and money, while making the roads safer.
“It’s the best thing to happen to law enforcement since we started collecting data,” said Sgt. Christopher Corea, who oversees an e-citation program for Maryland State Police that's also used by 130 local agencies across the state.
Switching reduced the average time for a traffic stop from eight to three minutes, he said. Maryland issues roughly 1 million tickets a year.
The changes have made the job of patrolling state highways safer, Corea said, and not just for troopers.
“Everybody likes to see the police lights on the side of the road, but that creates a safety hazard, not only for the officer and person pulled over but everyone driving past you that’s not paying attention to the road," he said. "So, by reducing the amount of time we’re out there, we’re improving safety on the roadways."
An unintended consequence of the program is a drop in ticket revenue because troopers give out more warnings. Troopers who see a motorist’s driving record are sometimes more lenient, especially if a driver has never received a ticket or a warning.
"Before this system, if you got pulled over by a Maryland state trooper, you were driving away with a ticket,” Corea said. “There were no first or second chances.”
Wood said the Massachusetts system, to be called the Motor Vehicle Automated Crash and Citation System, will eventually be used by every police agency in the state. The Registry of Motor Vehicles is also developing software to receive and share driving records and crash data.
Motorists have complained about a disconnect between local police, the courts and the registry, where tickets are paid. In some cases it takes months for the state to update motor vehicle records. Wood said the e-ticket system will alleviate the backlog by improving communication between state agencies.
The state hasn’t scheduled a rollout of the system, but Wood said $20 million in bonds earmarked for police departments will retrofit about 2,500 cruisers at an estimated cost of $7,500 per vehicle, depending on whether laptops are already installed in patrol cars.
Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said law enforcement officials across the state support the switch from paper tickets but are mindful that this is a massive undertaking that will take years. He said the state has about 15,000 police officers and 12,000 patrol cars.
“You’re talking about a tremendous amount of equipment that needs to go into each one of these cruisers,” he said. “But when this is up and running, it's going to save so much time, not just on e-citations but accidents and criminal investigations. More importantly, it’s going to vastly improve the accuracy of our data."
Wood said he expects there will be learning curve for officers who are used to the traditional pen-and-paper citations.
"Technology is great, but sometimes it takes longer,” he said. “We want to make sure that we don’t keep police officers or motorists on the side of the road longer than they would be for a paper ticket.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse. He can be email@example.com Follow him on Twitter: @cmwade196