Police test new scanners for traffic tickets

IT Pro­ject Man­ager Bern­ard Gar­cia (left) helps po­lice of­ficer from the sev­enth dis­trict, Kelvin Car­roll, with the new lis­cence scan­ners in­stalled in patrol cars. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Equip­ment sim­il­ar to the scan­ners su­per­mar­ket cashiers use to speed shop­pers through check­out lines is be­ing tested by 7th Po­lice Dis­trict of­ficers to cut the time it takes to write traffic cita­tions.

Small hand-held devices at­tached to the com­puters already in­stalled in patrol cars are be­ing used to scan the codes on the back of driver’s li­censes and feed the in­form­a­tion dir­ectly in­to those com­puters. 

Us­ing the scan­ner cuts the time the of­ficer would take to type the in­form­a­tion in­to the sys­tem, said the 7th dis­trict’s com­mand­er, Capt. Joseph Zaffino. 

The prac­tic­al­ity of the device is ob­vi­ous, he said. An of­ficer can is­sue a cita­tion and get back on patrol faster than he would if he had to write a tick­et longhand. However, the equip­ment’s ex­pense was an­oth­er thing in a city that’s been watch­ing its pen­nies.

“I nev­er thought the city would go for such a pro­gram,” the cap­tain said dur­ing an in­ter­view at dis­trict headquar­ters at Bustleton Av­en­ue and Bowl­er Street.

However, a 7th dis­trict ser­geant came up with the idea and found the money to pay for it, he said.

Zaffino said Sgt. Jeff Hick­son sug­ges­ted try­ing the driver’s li­cense scan­ner, an idea the cap­tain ini­tially thought was a little crazy. Such equip­ment was bound to be very, very ex­pens­ive, he had thought. 

But Hick­son found some state grant money to pay for high-tech gear, and now a dozen 7th dis­trict patrol cars are equipped with it, Zaffino said. Al­most all the dis­trict’s of­ficers have been trained to use it.

The driver’s li­cense scan­ner is not be­ing used else­where in the city, he ad­ded. 

“There’s no talk of it be taken city­wide,” he said.

The scan­ners only are be­ing tested right now, the cap­tain em­phas­ized.

“We’re still in a learn­ing phase,” Zaffino said. “A lot of bugs have to be worked out.”

Bern­ard Gar­cia, the po­lice de­part­ment’s IT pro­ject man­ager, is the guy who is track­ing down those bugs and work­ing them out. Right now, he said, it will re­cog­nize driver’s li­cense codes from every state and Ca­na­dian province.

The scan­ner is about as big as a com­puter mouse. It reads the code bar on the back of a driver’s li­cense, and the in­form­a­tion al­most im­me­di­ately ap­pears on a patrol car’s Mo­bile Data Ter­min­al. Pre­vi­ously, that in­form­a­tion would have to be entered by an of­ficer, who still has to put in some in­form­a­tion, in­clud­ing the vi­ol­a­tion and the loc­a­tion, Zaffino said.

Al­though Pennsylvania car re­gis­tra­tion cards have codes that can be scanned, the device in the dis­trict’s cars can’t read them yet. The of­ficer has to enter in­sur­ance in­form­a­tion, too.

The of­ficer also can use driver’s li­cense in­form­a­tion along with soft­ware already in his patrol car’s com­puter to check to see if the mo­tor­ist is wanted. A small print­er about the size of an aer­o­sol can prints out the cita­tion. 

Once of­ficers get ac­cus­tomed to the equip­ment, it’s ex­pec­ted to cut tick­et-writ­ing time by sev­er­al minutes, the cap­tain said, adding that the ex­tra time can be used to patrol.

“This will free us up and give us time to curb burg­lar­ies and de­crease theft from autos,” the cap­tain said.

The sys­tem is still very new. Of­ficer Kelvin Car­roll has been us­ing the equip­ment for a few weeks and said he has no­ticed no time sav­ings yet.

Gar­cia be­lieves the scan­ner even­tu­ally should shave four to six minutes off tick­et-writ­ing time.

“The dis­trict is so for­tu­nate,” he said.

Be­sides, there already is some time sav­ing at the end of a shift, he ad­ded.

The cita­tion that is prin­ted in the patrol car has only one copy, which is giv­en to the mo­tor­ist. When an of­ficer hits send on his com­puter, the tick­et goes dir­ectly to Phil­adelphia Traffic Court, Zaffino said. Pre­vi­ously, at the end of a shift, hand-writ­ten tick­ets had to be turned in and then sent on to traffic court. That in­volves some hours of work. By us­ing the scan­ner, an of­ficer is done with a tick­et once he sends it.

Of­ficers still have to fill out their in­cid­ent re­ports for car stops, and Car­roll said that still takes time. 

Also, Zaffino said, some mo­tor­ists have no driver’s li­censes to scan, which mean of­ficers will have to keep a sup­ply of those old-fash­ioned pa­per tick­ets.

Gar­cia said New York, Flor­ida, Mary­land and 11 oth­er states cur­rently use equip­ment like that be­ing tested in the 7th dis­trict. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com                   

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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