County moving e-citation program forward

Electronic ticketing system said to save time and money

For the past year now, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department has been issuing tickets to drivers electronically rather than writing them out by hand.

Edwardsville, Collinsville, Granite City and Troy later followed suit.

It’s faster, more accurate, and safer that way, says at least one police officer and an administrator who has overseen the state-mandated change.

The e-citations program is funded by a $5 fee on all court-appearance traffic tickets. Three dollars of that fee goes to the Madison County Circuit Clerk’s Office and $2 goes to the arresting police department.

On Wednesday, the county’s Finance and Government Operations Committee approved spending $18,000 to continue the program with the five departments.

Another $7,000 was approved for the Sheriff’s Department, money they will use for the training and support of other local police departments, according to Madison County Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida.

County Board member Tom McRae, a Republican who represents Bethalto, questioned whether the expenditure “is really worth it?”

That drew a spirited defense from Mike Parkinson, a 19-year veteran of the Granite City Police Department. Parkinson is also a member of the County Board.

“First of all, we can’t look at tickets as a source of revenue. They are, but that’s not the purpose,” he said. “They’re looked at as a way to keep the public safe and (to) correct bad driving.”

The e-citation program saves time and money, he said, especially in situations where an officer has to write tickets for multiple offenses. “The officer would have to sit and write five tickets by hand, and those tickets would have to be processed by a person, separated, and sent to three different places. This way, the officer only has to input the data one time, change the code for what the actual ticket is, and it gets automatically sent to the computer. It saves time and money. This is by far one of the greatest things we’ve seen in law enforcement in some time.”

The practice of having an officer call in information taken from a license plate or driver’s license is quickly fading. Soon all officers will be looking drivers’ information up on their car laptop.

The old practice required an officer to pull out a pad with four or five carbons behind it. He gave one copy to the driver, one to his police department, and one to the Circuit Clerk’s Office. Both the police station  clerk and the clerk at the Circuit Clerk’s office had to enter the information into their respective computers.

“By the time our clerk gets it it’s the fourth or fifth copy, and the carbon paper copy is barely legible,” Von Nida said. Mistakes happen, he said, because copies are difficult to read. It’s time consuming because “we have two people doing exactly the same thing, putting in exactly the same information that the police officer had to write out by hand.”

With e-citation, the officer can use a portable printer in his squad car to print out a copy of the ticket for the driver.

Then there’s the issue of safety: e-citations have been shown to reduce the time needed for a traffic stop from an average of 15 minutes to five or less. That puts both officers and drivers out of harms way more quickly.

Next month the county will begin looking at five other police departments to bring on board.

The rollout for e-citations is slower than many would like because each municipality has its own ordinances, Von Nida said. “We have 27 different municipalities that each have their own rules, their own laws, their own procedures. Doing them all at once is not possible. It has to be done in an orderly manner.”