by Thomas Wailgum

Handheld Computers – The Fast Lane for Speeding Tickets

Jan 15, 20063 mins
Enterprise Architecture

If you get pulled over for speeding in Los Angeles, you won’t have to cool your heels for too long waiting for your ticket. Early this year, the Los Angeles Police Department is scheduled to roll out a system for issuing speeding citations electronically from handheld devices.

The system aims to reduce the time-consuming and error-prone process of writing and processing paper tickets. It works like this: Officers retrieve the identification data encoded on the magnetic strip of a driver’s license by swiping the card on their handheld. The driver’s information pops up, and the officer toggles through several screens to fill out the citation. The offender signs the citation on the handheld, much like people do for package delivery. Officers can then print the citation (which looks like a car-rental company’s receipt) on the spot via a wireless printer.

The officers upload wirelessly all of the citations they have issued for the day at the end of their shifts. The data is transmitted daily to Los Angeles’s municipal court system for processing and billing, thereby automating a manual process.

LAPD CIO Tim Riley says the e-citation system builds on a multimillion-dollar investment the city made several years ago, following the Rampart police corruption scandal in the 1990s. One of the worst police scandals in U.S. history, it resulted in a 2001 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, whereby federal officials would monitor all of the LAPD’s interactions with the public. The department’s 9,300 officers had to fill out a paper form every time they had contact with a person. Sometimes officers answered the questions incorrectly, and forms were lost or misfiled.

So in 2003, the LAPD rolled out 1,200 Symbol Technologies handheld devices to capture all of the required data electronically. The department, along with vendor CalAmp, wrote software that could guide officers through any encounter, whether a traffic stop or an interview on the street. Officers answer questions about the encounters by checking boxes on the handheld screen. A central database records data from some 2,500 interactions each day.

Using the handhelds has reduced the time it takes to capture information to less than a minute and has eliminated nearly all of the reporting errors, so officers don’t have to redo their reports. Riley expects similar results for the e-citation program, which is a separate application. Adding the ticket-writing capability to the handhelds that officers were already using cost $1.3 million. It was a no-brainer, Riley says. “We’re maximizing the investment the city made.”

The department protects its data in part by allowing officers to connect to the secure police network only when they are near the short-range wireless access points on police buildings.

There’s more to come. Riley says the department plans to add more applications to the handheld in the future, so that officers can retrieve information from police databases at the touch of a button. “A lot of thought went into [the handheld strategy],” Riley says, “and we intend to continue to grow it.”