POSTED ON FEBRUARY 18, 2009:
Electronic ticketing system may increase city revenue and decrease automobile accidents
All but lost in the hand-wringing over Mayor Kathy Taylor's recent announcement that the city faced a $3.5-million general fund deficit were figures indicating a steep drop in the number of citations issued for traffic and parking violations, code enforcements and criminal activities.
But those numbers did not escape the attention of District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton.
"I don't know if the English language has words for how disturbing they were," he said of the Municipal Court figures, which indicate that during the first five months of fiscal year 2009, the number of citations issued fell by approximately 40 percent compared to the same time a year earlier. For the period from July through November of fiscal year 2008, 42,409 citations were issued, but that number fell to 24,295 for FY 2009 -- a difference of 18,114 citations. The biggest drop was in July 2009, when only 4,556 citations were issued, compared to 9,363 last year, a reduction by more than 50 percent.
Eagleton declined to comment on the reasons for that decline. A spokesman for Mayor Kathy Taylor -- who said at the Feb. 3 City Council meeting that she was trying to learn from the city departments that issue the citations why the figures had fallen so dramatically -- referred questions last week to Tulsa Police Chief Ron Palmer.
The decrease in citations has meant a corresponding reduction in revenue for the city, which has contributed to the general fund deficit. But to Eagleton, who for two years has been trying to get an electronic ticketing proposal adopted by the council, there are more ominous implications. He took those numbers as yet another example of why Tulsa needs to do something quickly about the number of motorists who speed and commit other moving violations at the expense of other drivers' safety.
"The idea that a person can go through an entire eight-hour patrol shift and not witness a single traffic violation is baffling to me," Eagleton said on Feb. 12, the day his proposal was to go back before the council for a public hearing. To further illustrate his point, he claimed he had almost been T-boned at an intersection that morning by a motorist running a red light.
Eagleton proposes that the city purchase 50 hand-held e-ticket devices, equipment that he said will make ticket writing a much faster and efficient task for Tulsa police officers, resulting in what he believes would be a 20 to 40 percent increase in citations and a corresponding drop in dangerous driving. Each device has a bar-code reader through which a driver's license could be scanned, recording all the motorist's information without the officer having to do it by hand. The information would be filed automatically at Municipal Court, saving city employees the time of recording it and all but eliminating mistakes.
Essentially, Eagleton said, a 20-minute traffic stop would be reduced to five minutes.
The program would cost more than $400,000 and be financed by unallocated funds from previous third-penny and general-obligation bond programs. The proposal could come up for a vote as early as March.
Electronic ticketing has been adopted by various law enforcement agencies across the country, many of whom have reported positive results. Among the cities that have gone to the system are Cleveland, Miami-Dade County, Tucson, Los Angeles and San Jose, as well as the state of Texas.
Eagleton said Tulsa police experimented with a two-week trial in the fall of 2006, during which officers "deliberately and aggressively" enforced the traffic code. He said the program was proof of the benefits of beefed-up enforcement.
In the two months before the program, he said, there were 11 traffic-related fatalities in Tulsa. In the four months afterward, there were only six.
"So in twice as much time, there were almost half as many fatalities," he said. "And there was a corresponding decrease in serious accidents."
Eagleton said Tulsa averages 40 traffic-related fatalities a year, a number he believes could be heavily impacted by better enforcement of the traffic code. Citing a plethora of statistics from communities that already have adopted it, he believes the e-ticket program would pay for itself in short order, not to mention the lives, money and suffering saved by the reduction in accidents.
Eagleton makes no apologies for his crusade against speeders and those who run red lights, citing his own experience as an accident victim and his many friends who have suffered from what he called negligence by other drivers.
"Yeah, I'm a zealot, in case you haven't noticed," he said.
Eagleton has high hopes for his proposal, which he described as a no-brainer, but he said its passage is far from being certain.
"I was surprised last time when it got tabled, so I am reluctant to predict the behavior of my fellow counselors," he said. "But I will continue to moo cow about this."
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