Hard times might be ahead for speeders and reckless dog owners if certain events set in motion by city leaders run their course.
During two separate discussions at last week's City Council committee meeting, councilors contemplated the lawful fates of canine-chauffeuring motorists, as well as ways to expedite enforcement against these and other traffic transgressions.
"One of my constituents got a $100 ticket for driving with a four-pound Chihuahua in the car with her," Councilor Bill Christiansen recounted with a modicum of bewilderment.
He said the caper raised questions for him about how much he and the average citizen probably don't know about the proper transport of Man's Best Friend in the eyes of the law of the City of Tulsa.
So, in the interest of clarification for himself and the general public, he asked City Prosecutor Bob Garner to advise him and other councilors on the matter.
"I drive around with my dog in the car with me all the time. Am I in violation of a city ordinance by doing that?" Christiansen asked.
Garner answered that, according to local law, "No person shall operate a vehicle while holding a person, child or animal on his or her lap, and no person shall transport an animal in the bed of a pickup or any other open vehicle unless the animal is tethered or secured in a crate suitable for transportation."
Christiansen's offending constituent was cited for transporting her Chihuahua on her lap, he said, which explains the penalty she incurred, but the councilor asked, "If someone's got a dog in the backseat with its nose out the window, is that a violation of the city ordinance?"
Garner's response and the ensuing discussion were inconclusive, apart from all agreeing that the answer to the question hinges on the legal definition of an "open vehicle," which the prosecutor was instructed to determine in time for the next committee meeting.
In the interest of putting the issue in perspective, though, Garner apprised councilors that, of the 100,814 traffic citations issued in Tulsa last year, a scant 17 were for this particular violation.
However, he noted that a single officer, who was apparently singularly passionate about automotive safety for animals, issued nine of those citations.
"I'd like the name of that officer," said Councilor John Eagleton.
"I'd like to send him a letter of commendation. He's doing a great job," he added.
Still Loves Dogs
The issue ties in to Eagleton's own ongoing civic crusade to promote greater safety on the streets of Tulsa, for dogs and their owners alike.
For the past several months, he's been pushing to bring Tulsa's traffic patrol officers into the 21st Century by eliminating hand-written citations in favor of the faster, better, sexier electronic variety.
Following Garner's legal advisement on canine car safety, Officer Will Dalsing of the Tulsa Police Department's Crime Analysis, Planning, Evaluation and Research section appeared before the Council at Eagleton's behest.
He apprised them of his section's goal to "eliminate the arcane, cumbersome, and inefficient process of hand-writing paper citations" and replace with a faster, cheaper, better process enabled by mobile electronic devices.
Dalsing said 500 of the approximate 800 officers who comprise TPD issue about 10,000 citations a month, which takes about 20 minutes of their time for a single ticket, with about another five minutes for each additional ticket.
So, if police cite a particularly egregious traffic violator--say, someone who was speeding, on top of having a Great Dane in his lap and who doesn't have insurance, earning him three tickets--that would typically take up about 30 minutes of an officer's time.
Dalsing said copies of the hand-written paper tickets are rendered through various layers of carbon paper, the city's copies of which are then hand-carried to the court where they're scanned into a database.
However, those copies are sometimes lost, poorly written, and subject to procedural or informational errors, which render them impossible to successfully prosecute.
He estimated about one out of every four tickets written is useless for such reasons.
Dalsing said an electronic system would be much less subject to error because the information would be typed into the computer and instantaneously transmitted into the city's computers.
Also, a single ticket would take only eight minutes to issue, with additional tickets only taking up a single additional minute of the officer's time instead of the five gobbled up by paper tickets--which is time he or she could otherwise put to use responding to other calls or deterring crime by patrolling, Dalsing explained.
He said the cost to the city in police man-hours is about $9 for two paper tickets, as opposed to $3 for two electronic tickets.
Switching to electronic tickets would increase officer availability by up to 70 percent, and reduce costs related to citations by up to 70 percent.
Each device costs $4,500, Dalsing said, which would cost the city $2.3 million to equip 500 officers, including development costs and infrastructure, hardware and software costs.
However, Dalsing said the system would be implemented in four phases, the first of which would cost $300,000 to equip 50 officers.
After that, the cost to implement each successive phase would be covered by the savings and ticket revenue of the preceding phase.
Months ago, representatives from the Michigan-based ETC Technologies offered to cover the start-up and equipment costs in exchange for a cut of the traffic of the traffic revenue for the first several years of the new system, but Dalsing said that offer was rejected because it would have diverted millions of dollars from city coffers that could be put to better public use.
Representatives from the city's finance department asked councilors to give them four weeks to look into ways the city can cover the $300,000 start up costs before the Council votes on whether to implement the system.
Share this article: