Not Having to Go to Jail Today: Priceless

By Dees, Tim | Law & Order, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Not Having to Go to Jail Today: Priceless


Dees, Tim, Law & Order


Getting a traffic ticket from a Wisconsin state trooper as often meant immediately accompanying the trooper to a courthouse or police station to post bond on the citation.

The Wisconsin State Patrol has long had a policy that non-resident traffic violators had to post bail immediately after receiving a traffic citation. According to WSP Captain Bob Bereiter, commander of the Waukesha post, this is because Wisconsin is one of six states that are not signatories to the Nonresident Violator Compact (called the Drivers License Compact in some states), which allows member states to take action against the driver's licenses and vehicle registrations of drivers who commit traffic violations in other member states, and then fail to answer to them.

When a Wisconsin trooper issues a citation to a nonresident driver, he usually has to escort the driver to a police station or courthouse where the bond can be received and a receipt issued.

Nine Wisconsin troopers working out of the Waukesha post, and those assigned to one of the commercial vehicle scales in that zone, now have wireless credit card terminals available to them to accept credit card payments at the site of the violation. The hardware is very similar to the "swipe" credit card readers employed in retail stores. The trooper swipes the magnetic stripe on the credit card through the reader, enters the merchant number (a different merchant number is required for each court jurisdiction that handles WSP citations) and the amount of the standard bond for that violation. The credit card information is sent via cellular modem to the credit card company's server, and if the card is valid and is not beyond its credit limit, the transaction is approved. The trooper gets a printed receipt, which is signed by the violator and stapled to the citation for transmission to the court. The violator also gets a copy of the receipt. The entire operation takes slightly longer than a similar transaction at a retail store, owing to the slower transmission speeds of the cellular modem. The system was installed by Master Card, although it will also accept Visa cards.

WSP has tried accepting credit cards in the field before, but there was a problem with working in several court jurisdictions in a single patrol shift. "When I was on the road, I might have passed through and written citations in as many as four counties in a day, each served by a different court. We had manual credit card imprinters in the patrol cars for a time, but citing into a different court meant unscrewing the metal plate that held the merchant number and substituting a different one. It was just too time consuming," said Captain Bereiter. "This system has received glowing reviews so far. It used to take an extra 20 to 30 minutes for a trooper to escort the violator to post bond. Now, everyone is on their way in a few minutes."

Transaction fees associated with the credit card transaction are absorbed by the court, and not passed on to the violator directly, so that bonds paid by inthe-field credit card transactions are no higher than they would be if paid at a courthouse. The costs of not having to generate a handwritten receipt and handle cash, and to have access to the bond funds immediately, more than offset the transaction fees.

Taming the Paper Monster

Law enforcement agencies typically generate a lot of paperwork, even in departments where most reporting processes have been converted to computer-based systems. People are still most likely to be comfortable with the paper "interface," and they will insist on having access to it whenever possible. Unfortunately, committing a report to paper means that the paper can be destroyed, mislaid or otherwise lost very easily. Paper is also expensive and space-consuming to store, is subject to being damaged by all sorts of natural and man-made forces, and consumes a great deal of personnel time in filing, indexing and retrieving. …

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