While no one ever likes getting a speeding ticket, the process along Wyoming’s highways is going to become slightly less painful for lead-footed drivers cruising across the state.
Thanks to an in-car computer system upgrade, the Wyoming Highway Patrol has become the state’s first law enforcement agency to issue electronic citations, a process that scraps the pen and triplicate forms in favor of the keyboard and the printer. The switch is expected to eventually save time for both the driver and the officer.
“It will ultimately make our report writing more efficient, our officers more efficient,” said Jim Gates, a sergeant in the Highway Patrol and the statewide instructor who's introducing the program to the patrol’s various offices across Wyoming.
Last week, Gates briefed the Casper office and gave local patrolmen an eight- to 12-hour tutorial on using the new software, which is installed on their old computers, Dell laptops that mount in the patrol cars.
One of the primary upgrades of the system allows an officer to instantly run a driver’s information through a number of databases. In the past, that process was conducted over the radio with a dispatcher. The improved system allows officers to check whether a driver’s license is valid and whether there are warrants out for the driver's arrest.
“If we’re out on a busy day … prior to the electronic system, we were almost competing for airspace,” Gates said. “This really frees up the radio and it makes it easier to get our job done more efficiently.”
While entering the driver’s information for a first ticket in the new system will likely take roughly the same amount of time as the former paper versions, the program allows subsequent tickets to auto-complete, thus saving time, Gates said. He also said he did not expect the new capability to increase the number of tickets issued during traffic stops.
Additionally, the new system displays the GPS information of patrol cars and allows dispatch to see exactly where officers are at a given time. Gates said that function should allow for quicker response times if an officer needs backup or when reporting to an accident.
While there are many practical benefits to the upgrade, patrol Sgt. Stephen Townsend said that there has been some reluctance among the ranks to completely switch to a new system.
“It’s like something new at any office,” Townsend said. “It’s change. Some like it, some don’t.”
Townsend said he was one of four officers selected to evaluate the system and has been using it for about 1 1/2 years.
“It speeds things up,” he said.
In Casper, District Commander Shawn Dickerson said he supports the transition, but there may be a learning curve.
“I anticipate there will be an adjustment period and the typical traffic stop may be briefly extended as troopers transition,” he said. “This adjustment period should be short-lived.”
Gates said another aspect of the new software is the capability to write reports more easily from within the patrol cars than in the past.
“It allows the trooper to spend less time in the office, and more time on the road,“ Gates said. “One of my common practices is to pull over to the median and work on my paperwork. That acts as a deterrent. When people see me, they slow down and pay attention. That has a positive effect.”
Once a ticket is filed and approved, it is pulled directly into the Wyoming Supreme Court database and a driver can pay the ticket within half an hour, Gates said.
Drivers will still receive a paper form of their ticket, and instead of being written in a trooper’s handwriting, which both Gates and Townsend said can at times be indecipherable, it will be printed in a clear black font on white paper.