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May 05. 2013 10:04PM

Southern NH towns experimenting with eTickets for traffic stops

You may be one of those unlucky few who know that feeling of waiting for what seems like forever while a police officer writes up your traffic ticket.

In an effort to save time, paper and lives, the Pelham, Windham and Salem police departments have been chosen to test out a new eTicket system that could end up replacing the long-standing tradition of police writing tickets.

If the system tests well at the three local departments, the state Department of Safety said the ultimate goal is to make the system available to every law enforcement agency in the state. State police have been using eTicket for the past year.

"Obviously any kind of technology that makes our jobs more efficient and increases safety and time is a good thing," said Salem Police Deputy Chief Shawn Patten.

Lt. Gary Fisher of the Pelham Police Department said the new system would save paper, reduce redundancy and simplify a system that can sometimes be very complicated.

"And as far as being on the side of the roadway, you would see a substantial difference," Fisher said.

Based on preliminary testing, Fisher said the system could reduce the amount of time officers spend issuing tickets to only two minutes.

"Then we'll see if there are any kinks that we have to work out," Fisher said.

According to the Department of Safety, which is overseeing the implementation of the eTicket system, if the testing of the equipment goes well, the technology could be made available to 140 local police departments across the state within the next six months.

"This collaborative effort by the department's Division of State Police, Motor Vehicles, staff from the Department of Information Technology and the judicial branch is a great example of what can be accomplished by working together toward a shared goal that ultimately will benefit everyone in the criminal justice system, and the citizens of the State of New Hampshire," Department of Safety Commissioner John J. Barthelmes said.

With 54,000 traffic tickets issued annually, and more than 200 police departments throughout the state, Department of Safety officials say that after the successful implementation of the eTicket system by state police, it only makes sense to try to expand it to local departments throughout the state.

The eTicket system works by issuing a traffic ticket by computer from the police cruiser instead of having a police officer hand write it. Then, the cruiser's onboard computer automatically transmits the data to the Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles where the information will be sent electronically to the judicial branch case management system.

"We are working towards the goal of getting rid of paper completely," said Keith Lohmann, of the Department of Safety. Lohmann added that the eTicket system will be more efficient, accurate and safe for troopers and motorists on the side of busy roads.

Fisher said Pelham's department has yet to actually test the system in the field, but that the preliminary testing they have done so far has worked perfectly. Once the preliminary testing is complete, Fisher said the eTicket system will be installed in one police cruiser and tested in real scenarios.

Patten said that Salem police have yet to test the system.

Capt. Michael Caron of the Windham Police Department is more skeptical. He said while the eTicket program might make ticketing a more efficient process, he doesn't think it will shorten the amount of time spent on the side of the road.

"Obviously it would be more efficient, but there is some apprehension; there will probably be some bugs as we test it. But this is progress. We should be using technology to the fullest. If it is there, let's do it," Caron said.

If the eTicket program does indeed shorten the amount of time spent on the side of the road, many motorists say they would welcome the system as it could make being pulled over safer. But for some Granite Staters, the testing and possible implementation of the eTicket system statewide is cause for concern.

Tony Hayes of Merrimack said he would not like to see the eTicket program expand to Merrimack.

"You're watched day and night, you can't go anywhere. I have never been worried being pulled over, and most of the police are respectful when they pull you over. I don't see anything wrong with the way things are now," Hayes said.

John Malkowski of Nashua agreed that he has never been nervous about other motorists when pulled over, and said it is good the system is being tested before being rolled out across the state.

"I don't know if it is a good idea yet," he said.

However, many drivers said cutting down on the amount of time spent on the side of the road when pulled over would be welcome.

Eric Brouart of Nashua said that streamlining the process of getting pulled over would make the experience safer for everyone involved.

"Especially in Nashua, where there is a lot of traffic and blocked lanes," he said.

For Roberta Woitkoski of Nashua, the eTicket program is just a sign of the times.

"Everything is going electronic anyway, and my initial gut reaction is it would save time which would make it safer because a lot people on the road are not paying attention."

bklein@newstote.com

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