Law & Crime
1:02 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

Virginia Police Departments Test E-Traffic Tickets

Credit photo by Beverly Amsler

Credit photo by Beverly Amsler

The latest law enforcement tool isn’t a gun or bullet-proof vest but an on-board electronic scanner.  Three Virginia police departments are beta testing the new device. 

Ever wish you could go back in time. . .and maybe prevent a traffic accident? I was involved in a crash a few years ago where the police officer responding to the scene made some errors in taking down the information, so when my insurance company and I went to follow up, the other driver –and her insurance company- were difficult to find.  But incorrect or missing information and bad handwriting will soon be a thing of the past for police officers, now that some departments are testing a system that simply lets them scan the information into their computer. 

I recently went on a ride-along with Salem Senior Police Officer Philip Weddle, a 10-year law enforcement veteran. 

We patrolled the city, with Officer Weddle looking for speeders, expired inspection stickers, and- “What are you looking for?”

“I’m looking for this maroon car that just ran this stop sign back there.”

“Dispatch 272, 10:38”

“Virginia William. . .”

“This is the scanner for the license.” 

He holds the driver’s license up to an attachment on his on-board computer that looks like one of those hand-held scanners in a department store. The name, address, and other pertinent information are automatically entered into the electronic system.

“We also do it with the registrations now.

"This tells me if they’re licensed or if they’re not licensed or if they’re wanted.” . . .“and the registration it’ll tell me if the registration is still active and still good.  His tags say April of 2015 but sometimes people will steal the years off of other cars.  So you run the tag to make sure that the license year is what it says on the car and that it’s not stolen.”

“Now when I write the e-summons, the information that I’ve scanned with their license, I can just drag over to a summons format on here.” 

But the new system isn’t without its drawbacks.

“This is the part that takes the longest is finding how they have worded the code section on this new system.”

Salem is one of three departments across the Commonwealth being used to test the system.  The others are Danville and James City County.  Salem Police officers have been using the new electronic summons system in three of their vehicles for less than a year.  Weddle says there’s a bit of a learning curve.

“When I first started doing it I didn’t like it because it took me forever.  Once I learned what had to be punched in and what could be brought over from the-scanning the license and all that-it’s faster for me now.”

“Before when I would hand write tickets I had a cheat sheet, well I actually had a book of cheat sheets where I just, I knew where everything was.”

“Once I put all the information in I save it and then I’ll push print.”

“This is his copy of the summons.  It looks exactly like the old carbon-copy ones.”

“The second copy I’ll print out is the court copy.  That’s the hard copy for the courts that shows that he signed saying that he would show up for court.”

“When I’m done with this, it gets submitted to our server and somebody else in the front office probably does all that.  It doesn’t go directly to the courts from our car.”

And that’s it.  Because Weddle struggled to find the correct code for the violation, he says it took him a bit longer to complete the traffic stop.  Some codes are now second nature to him.

“Speeding’s easy to find; you use it a lot.  Expired inspection stickers, we use that a lot.  Reckless driving, it’s all on there and easy to find.”

It would be faster if he would be writing multiple tickets---

“Because all of his stuff’s already in there, I just change the code and print out another ticket, change code and print out another ticket.”

---as I found out when Weddle spotted a car with an expired inspection sticker. 

“Dispatch 272, 10:38.  In Virginia Boy, Ocean ****, white Honda 4-door.  We’ll be on Texas Street, just past Boulevard.”

“Didn’t realize the inspection sticker had expired or that she couldn’t have stuff hanging from her rear view mirror.”

“So I’m giving her a warning for the dangling objects.  I’m going to give her a citation for the inspection sticker.”

-which expired in November.

“See how much faster that one was when I could find the code section.”

“Right now I’d probably be halfway through a written summons and I’m printing out my summons now.”

Chief Jeff Dudley agrees it’s a time-saver.  “And it’s actually a safety feature to some extent because the officers don’t have to be taking their attention away from the people that they’re with as long as and as often as they did when they were writing out a hand-written summons.” 

“When we do our imports of the information that we’ve scanned in here, it goes into our system, then we can import that to the court system.  So you’re taking out a records clerk in this building having to retype information.  You’re taking out a clerk at the court having to retype information.  So it’s also saving time and money.”

He’s so pleased with how the units are working and expects to install four more in the next two to three months. 

Meanwhile, Officer Weddle is parked in his patrol car near a street corner-

-conducted a speed check with vehicles coming over a rise toward us.

“(Here) comes one cruising pretty good.” 

“Thirty-eight’s pretty good.”

I’m Beverly Amsler.