Civic News

Driver’s license scanners: this Philly police pilot technology cuts length of traffic stops nearly in half

Launched last month, the tool allows cops to scan a driver's license and automatically write a traffic ticket with the cop's in-car computer.

The driver’s license scanner and the mobile computer that cops use to electronically write traffic tickets. Photo courtesy of the 7th Police District.

This is the fifth story in a multi-part series looking at the state of police IT: where it’s been, what’s it like now and where it’s going. Find the rest of the stories in the series here.

It looks like one those handheld price scanners you’d see at the grocery store, but this tool that’s being piloted by one Philadelphia Police district is a bit niftier: it cuts the length of traffic stops nearly in half.

Launched last month, the tool allows cops to scan a driver’s license and automatically write a traffic ticket with the cop’s in-car computer. The scanner cuts ticket-writing time in half, said 7th District Capt. Joseph Zaffino, whose district, in the Northeast around Bustleton, is piloting the technology.

An average traffic stop will take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes, Zaffino said, with five to 10 minutes going toward writing the actual ticket. The scanner gets ticket-writing down to three to five minutes.

Zaffino stresses that the new tool is not about being able to write more tickets. It’s about having more time to patrol the district for other types of crime, he said.

The technology also eliminates another paper-pushing step for cops writing moving violations. Normally, cops have to bring a copy of every ticket they’ve written back to their district so it can be taken to Traffic Court, Zaffino said. With this system, the in-car computer automatically sends a copy of the ticket to Traffic Court. There’s even a little printer inside the cop car that prints out the traffic tickets that go to the offender.


Each 7th District cop car is equipped with a printer that can print out the traffic tickets to be given to the offender. Photo courtesy of the 7th Police District.

The technology was introduced by 7th District Sgt. Jeff Hickson, who learned about it during his time as a Traffic Court police liaison in the early 2000s. At that time, the police truck enforcement unit was using a similar handheld driver’s license scanner.

Every 7th District police car — all 11 of them — is equipped with the scanners and printers, Zaffino said, and the tool will be piloted for about a year. There are currently no plans to go citywide with the technology, Zaffino said.

The scanners are currently being funded by a grant obtained by the State Police, said Hickson, though neither Zaffino nor Hickson could specify the cost of the technology.

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