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Ohio Supreme Court clarifies electronic traffic ticketing

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 31, 2014

Not all e-ticketing is for airline tickets. While still rare in Ohio, state law and court rules allow police departments to issue electronically produced traffic citations.

In two amendments to Traffic Rule 3, which were effective Jan. 1, 2014, the Ohio Supreme Court has clarified how electronic traffic citations can be given out.

Electronic traffic citations, while allowable under Ohio law, are only available to a very small number of police departments. The city of Twinsburg is apparently the only Summit County jurisdiction that has such capabilities.

To understand electronic ticketing is to understand its history.

Ohio law enforcement agencies have been allowed by rule and law to issue citations electronically since Division F was added to the traffic rules, effective Feb. 1, 2002. Since then, several amendments have been added to the traffic rules to clarify the process of electronic ticketing.

That original addition to the law as generated from a study by the Digital Signatures Committee of the Ohio Judicial Conference, and authorized, “the use of traffic tickets that are produced by computer or other electronic means and the adoption of local rules relative to the electronic filing of traffic tickets.”

That section was further refined by amendments in 2006 and 2014.

The latest amendments do two things to the current law: eliminate the need for the defendant to sign the e-ticket, but, at the same time, require the citing officer to sign the citation as a means of certifying it.

“That (the rule change) is not a bad thing,” said Twinsburg City Police Chief Christopher Noga. “Every once in a while, you do get someone who does not want to sign a ticket.” Noga said that his department has had e-ticketing for about four years. Although he is happy with the system, and is encouraging its use, only “10 to 15 percent of our citations are e-tickets,” he said.

Twinsburg traffic cases go to Stow Municipal Court. The Stow court’s administrator, Rick Klinger, likes the system. “We mentioned it to all of the police departments in our jurisdiction awhile back,” said Klinger.

Then, he said, shortly after Twinsburg started their system, the economy turned south, and the potential financing for these projects dried up.

Economics have been a primary reason that more police departments have shied away from developing these systems, according to multiple court spokespeople.

“We have taken a look at it, along with Chief Morber (Barberton Police Chief Vince Morber), but it was too expensive at this time,” said Barberton Municipal Court Clerk Diana Stevenson. “We would need to put equipment into patrol cars and software in both places (the clerk’s office and the patrol car).”

The city of Kent, as well, would be interested in such a system, but the idea is not currently in the works, said department spokesperson Lt. Jim Prusha. “It sounds like it would save a lot of work,” he said.

No Mahoning County police department has e-ticketing either, to the best knowledge of Youngstown Municipal Court Magistrate Anthony Sertick Jr.

“I don’t believe that I have seen any ticket presented electronically,” Sertick said. “Everything that has come through our department has come manually, handwritten.”

Is e-ticketing in the future in the Valley?

“Trying to be efficient can certainly be an idea that has some validity,” he said. “But, like any technology, technology, it is great as long as it performs and works accurately.” And that, he said, is true whether the method used is electronic or manual.

In the long run, an e-ticketing system would save labor and money, said Tom Craven of Bedford’s TAC Computer Inc., the company that designed and built Twinsburg’s e-ticketing system.

TAC is one of several computer companies that have developed such a system, said Noga.

The real expense, said Craven, is in the hardware. “While there is no set price (for E-Cite), the hardware is more expensive than the software.”

Once the hardware is installed, the e-ticketing software is a simple add-on to an existing police software system. TAC’s add-on is called TAC E-Cite. That program is running at several Ohio police departments, said Craven, including in Alliance and several Cuyahoga County departments.

“We have been using TAC software for many years,” said Noga. The E-Cite software was simply a module that was added to the department’s existing software. The expense, such as it was, was in the hardware. The department did receive a grant from the municipal court judges to help defray some of the expense.

“It took us some time to get the system up and running,” said Chief Noga, but the problems were all in the hardware, and particularly in finding the right printer. “They went through a lot of printers before they found the right one.” The department settled on a printer that cost about $600.

The specially-designed police computers, from Panasonic, were already on board. “It cost about $5,000 to outfit the cruisers,” said Noga.

TAC E-Cite is, “very robust, with a lot of capability,” he said. The officer at the scene can call up a screen, connect to the BMV, automatically download the driver’s and vehicle’s information, find and click on the offense, and print the ticket, all from the cruiser. While, under the new rule, the person receiving the ticket does not need to sign for it, the violator still does receive a copy.

When the patrol car gets back to the station, all of the data is automatically loaded into the police computer system via wifi, and can then be sent to the court.

“It eliminates the need for hand data entry,” said Craven.

That is, unless the violator is a juvenile, the Twisnburg department does not have an e-ticketing agreement with Summit County Juvenile Court, Noga said.

Craven estimates that the system saves at least 30 minutes of data entry per citation, and bypasses at least three people as the information gets from the cruiser to the court. In the long run, said Craven, e-ticketing is very cost-effective, both from the labor time savings, and from the materials savings.

Noga said that only a small percentage of tickets are written in the e-ticket format. “Maybe 10 to 15 percent,” he said.

“Eventually, the goal is to make this standard,” said Noga. “To go paperless.” Noga expects to meet with new Stow Clerk of Courts Kevin Coughlin to discuss e-ticketing.

Will more police departments adopt these systems? Klinger thinks that, as the economy begins to grow, they may start looking at this again.