Safety First: Digital Citations Eliminate All Risk (and make moolah, too)

It’s rare to get a truly disruptive technological idea out of Oklahoma, but former police officer cum State Senator Al McAffrey has come up with sheer brilliance in Senate Bill 1872, which would “allow law enforcement officers to issue electronic citations for traffic, misdemeanor and municipal ordinance violations.”

“Allowing officers to issue electronic citations will help better protect them. If they don’t have to approach vehicles during traffic stops to give people tickets but can simply email traffic violation citations directly to the district court clerk then they’re less likely to get into a dangerous altercation,” said McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City.

As any highway patrol officer can tell you, approaching a stopped car on the side of the road is one of the riskiest things a cop can do. You never know who is inside the car, an old woman who will call you mean names, a bloodthirsty lawfully armed driver or a deaf person who refuses to comply with orders, compelling the police to take extreme measures to protect themselves from the silence. Anything can happen, and that raises terrible questions about how to apply the First Rule of Policing.

If the cop wasn’t required to actually stop a person, but rather just do a digital jig that popped out a citation on the other end, he wouldn’t be placed in danger.  And really, isn’t that the core purpose of due process, to protect the cop?

But because you aren’t a cop, and really couldn’t care less about the First Rule of Policing because you don’t get it, you are probably asking the only question that matters to you: What’s in this for me?

The measure would add a $5 fee to the amount paid by defendants convicted of speeding (up to 10 mph over the speed limit), certain misdemeanor traffic violations, or a driving under the influence misdemeanor or felony.

A “Court Clerk’s Records Electronic Citation Fund” would be created in each county.

Sixty percent of the fee, or $3, would be credited to the fund and forty percent would be disbursed to the agency of the arresting law enforcement officer to help with the expenses related to the establishment and maintenance of electronic citations.

While it’s unclear how the “court clerk’s” fund will be used, it’s assumed that it will be applied to the same purposes as all other court surcharges, ice cream parties for court personnel.  Obviously, that means the parties will no longer be a burden on the general fund, thus eliminating the otherwise anticipated .003% increase in your taxes.  Spend the extra money wisely.  Perhaps on a new iPad to receive your citation emails.

Having a good laugh at this inane proposal?  Wipe that silly grin off your face.

As regular readers here are painfully well aware, there is a broad swathe of early adopters for whom technology offers the solution to all that ails us.  This particular proposal has the added virtue of providing safety for law enforcement, institutionalizing the First Rule, which is no laughing matter to legislators.  And as it happens, it will be safer for cops, despite a problem or two:

So why not let them just skip it, even if that also means skipping the opportunity for motorists to be notified of their legal jeopardy at once, see their accusers, have a chance to explain themselves, and so forth?

But we are already extremely close to this scenario now. Red light cameras, anyone?  When the notice of violation arrives a month or more later, can you remember what you were doing on May 13th at 15:37?  There is no one to complain to, to question, to challenge. Just pay the bill and be happy you get no points.

McAffrey’s proposal isn’t all that different in kind from what is already ubiquitous, not to mention a huge money-maker, around the country.  Sure, there are huge issues with the maintenance and handling of red light cameras, with the companies who get a cut of proceeds to calibrate them and assure the municipalities that get the other cut that they are completely trustworthy, but money is a strong incentive.

When you add police safety to money, the incentive may be overwhelming.  Who wouldn’t support a program that does two fabulous things for government.  It’s not like there is an interest group fighting for the rights of motorists who speed.

Ironically, the best argument against the use of electronic citations is that it would preclude cops from using the opportunity to request consent to search and have the drug dogs do a quick sniff.  This could mean a serious hit on forfeitures as police seize whatever money drivers have in their pockets.

There are two solutions to this dilemma, of course. The first is to fix fines at an amount greater than what the police take in from seizures.  The second is that police department policy limit the use of electronic seizures citations to local roads, thus making cops do physical stops on highways, where the big money is usually found.

Sure, there is also that whole notice and due process thing, where being stopped by an officer would allow a person to know that he’s being accused of a wrong rather than learning of it months later with no possible means of challenging it. But if it works for red light cameras, why not traffic citations?

After all, what could be more important than the safety of our police officers?  So what if it costs an extra fiver for the pleasure of being cited, as that’s just the price of technology. Digital isn’t free, you know.  But more importantly, the thoughtful integration of technology into our lives will make the performance of the law enforcement function so much more effective, even if they send out a citation or two for an offense that never happened when tax revenues are down.

Tech. It’s the future. Hop on board or watch it leave the station without you, for which you will no doubt also be fined.

23 comments on “Safety First: Digital Citations Eliminate All Risk (and make moolah, too)

  1. the other rob

    Am I correct that, in the second sentence of the fourth from last paragraph, you meant to write “electronic citations” rather than “electronic seizures”?

    My reluctant pedantry may be attributed to the fact that I find the latter even more frightening than the former and I’d hate for you to give anybody ideas: “I know! The mean amount of cash carried by travelers on this stretch of road is $X. Let’s automatically draft that amount from their checking account at the same time that the electronic citation is issued. They can always go to court once they notice that the money has gone and prove that it wasn’t the proceeds of crime.”

    1. SHG Post author

      Yes, you are correct. I’ve corrected it, but I fear that my slip up reflects a more nefarious tech innovation as well. It’s really just a baby step further away from sanity.

    2. Justin Eisele

      Could we see a new age of digital misdemeanor citations? We justify it for cameras snapping stop sign violators. We have it for speeding.

      Law Enforcement offices have lost most of their connection to the community. They are even less connected to people on highways. They are all a bunch of out of towners, rabid bandits , or black or brown.

      This story pisses me off. Police departments and lower misdemeanor and traffic courts have become a money-centered industry.

      1. SHG Post author

        “Could we,” as in you want to, please, or is it possible? If the latter, why not? Once we break away from culpability into revenue collection, anything goes.

  2. Matt James

    How do they ID the driver? Red light machines at least take a photo of the driver, which at least somewhat proves who was driving the car, even if you get the ticket in your name, and your wife is obviously the one driving.

    No, to really protect the soldiers, I mean officers, Oklahoma may have to use decommissioned bomb disposal robots from Iraq. Then the robots could slowly roll up on your vehicle, shine a light in your face, zoom in with a camera and watch you fumble through expired insurance and registration cards through a camera, and remain safely enclosed in their up-armored MRAP, er, I mean, squad car. This would allow for positive ID while still giving the driver the full police experience.

    1. SHG Post author

      Red light cameras take a photo of the license plate. Electronic citations may do the same. It’s just money. No need to get all “in your face” about it.

  3. Mike G.

    About three years ago, I got a digital citation unbeknownst to me until my wife called me and asked about a speeding ticket I received in Ridgeland, SC.

    Let me set the scene:

    My brother and I …[Ed. Note: Irrelevant personal (and not particularly interesting) war story deleted because this isn’t the place for you to tell you irrelevant personal war stories.]

    I would put a link, but I read the rules, so just Google Ridgeland, SC speed trap camera.

    1. SHG Post author

      Cool story, bro. Did somebody tell you that this is where you get to tell a story all about you because everybody wants to hear all about you and you think your story all about you is so very fascinating that you simply must tell everybody all about you?

      1. Mike G.

        You wrote an article about electronic citations and I thought my tale was relevant. Reckon that’s what I get for thinking. My mistake.

        1. SHG Post author

          Everybody thinks they’re their story is relevant, not to mention fascinating, and every lawyer (remember, this is a law blog) has a story, if not a few thousand.

          They don’t get to tell theirs. You don’t get to tell yours. I don’t get 100 emails complaining about it. That’s how it is here. The rules don’t change with each new guy who shows up and thinks he gets to reinvent the place.

          1. Mike G.

            No problem Bro. I read law blogs to learn about the law. My apologies for missing the rule about personal anecdotes pertaining to the law. I’ll refrain from making anymore anecdotal comments in your “house.”

            Thanks for the good articles…learn something new everyday.

            1. SHG Post author

              Thanks. Appreciate it. And trust me, you’ll be happy not to read the lawyer’s war stories. They can be brutal.

  4. Gritsforbreakfast

    “But if it works for red light cameras, why not traffic citations?”

    Don’t know about other states but in Texas red light camera fines are (disingenuously) classified as “civil,” not criminal penalties precisely because of the due process issues. Cops can only cite for Class C misdemeanors – which includes most traffic tickets – face to face.

    Also, in addition to removing a chance to find contraband, digital citations wouldn’t allow them to check for a valid license, insurance, run the driver and/or passengers names for warrants, etc.. Lots of traffic stops result in multiple tickets once no insurance, no DL, etc., are tacked on. They’d probably reduce revenue by foregoing those tickets, which are bigger moneymakers, even , than forfeiture.

  5. Mike G.

    I’ll try this again without the anecdote.

    In South Carolina, camera speed traps, ie. electronic citations, are/were against state law unless the “arresting officer” can hand deliver the ticket to the offending party within one hour of the infraction. Since most of these traps are set on interstate highways and a lot of offenders are from out of state, they won’t know that particular law and will just pay the fine when they get the letter in the mail instead of fighting it.

    The fine is $135 bucks plus 2 points. That’s a lot of revenue when you consider the traffic and speeders on a main interstate like I-95.

    1. SHG Post author

      Out of towners are easy prey in some way, not so easy in others. When the cost of fighting exceeds the cost of paying, they pay. As for the handful who return to fight, they’re giveaways. As for the ones who just ignore it, who cares. It’s just money. Collect as much as you can and be happy.

  6. John Burgess

    Just pick random names from the DMV database. Send them tickets in varying amounts, say $20 to $900,000. Think of it as a ‘reverse lottery’ in which everyone can play and ‘win’.

    Imagine the excitement when an envelope from the DMV arrives!! Imagine the relief when you only win $20!! And the real upside is that that coffers are going to chock full.

  7. D17S

    @SHG: I’m sure you meant to write “everybody thinks THEIR story is relevant” in your response to Mike G’s response to your response to Mike G’s scene-setting.

    (please excuse the caps; I just wanted to cite the precise point of error)

  8. Pingback: Electronic tickets: we skip the due process and pass the savings along to you - Overlawyered

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