McAllen Police Department
Reduces Dismissed Tickets by Half
E-Citation Produces More Legible Tickets, Increases Revenue
The McAllen Police Department (MPD) serves the McAllen, Texas, metro area, with a population of about 130,000. Just five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and the Mexican city of Reynosa (with a population of 500,000), the city's size can grow by 200,000 to 300,000 commuters each day. The MPD employs 272 sworn officers and approximately 380 total employees.
Like many police departments, MPD had long issued hand-written paper tickets to offenders. The manual process left room for errors in two places:
- Point of issuance—Handwritten ticket information could be incorrect or illegible.
- Municipal court—Administrators occasionally entered dates, locations, license numbers, or license plates incorrectly.
"If we have incorrect information, then the tickets are thrown out. We were losing revenue," said Lt. Robert Eason of MPD.
Across 20,000 citations per year, about 10 percent had to be invalidated due to errors of some sort. Beyond lost revenue, the department struggled with other ramifications of a paper-based approach. Citations were not in the court systems for two to three days, and paper copies were quickly filling a 15' x 25' storage room.
When exploring e-citation solutions, MPD connected with Brazos Technology, a College Station, Texas-based company that provides mobile applications for law enforcement and businesses.
The department chose Brazos Technology's electronic citation solution, which includes Brazos software, Motorola® MC75 handheld devices, and Zebra Technologies printers, all connected together wirelessly.
MPD road-tested a couple of different mobile printers, beginning with a pilot with its motorcycle officers. One printer, which uses thermal paper, didn't stand up to the hot and humid Texas border conditions. After baking a while on hot cars, the paper turned brown and became unreadable.
"When we tested Zebra® printers, the paper and print quality were much higher, and we didn't have any problems reading tickets even when they've been sitting in the sun," Eason said.
Since then, the department has expanded e-citation to its vehicle officers. With the software, MPD decides which fields and what standing information to print on each ticket, such as how to pay or contest the citation. In MPD's case, citation instructions print in both English and Spanish for the multi-ethnic population of the area.
When officers encounter unlicensed drivers, they also have the option of capturing and sending a photo of the individual as a means of identification in the absence of proof of name, date of birth, or address.
All of the data that the officers enter for each citation on handheld devices is automatically transmitted back to the court's records system, thereby eliminating duplicate data entry. Officers also easily print the citations on the Zebra mobile printer to hand the offender.
"We can dedicate more of the ticket to the information that offenders need, such as court hours," Eason said.
Additionally, the handheld devices automatically query the offender's name against McAllen's active local warrant list and inform the officer immediately if the offender is wanted. At once, this increases officer safety and the possibility of apprehension, thereby clearing more outstanding warrants.
MPD officers and the McAllen court both have responded enthusiastically to e-citation. Officers issue citations more quickly and accurately, which reduces the time they spend roadside with each traffic stop.
"Once officers are proficient with e-citation, they now issue citations faster than with written tickets," Eason said.
The court system has a record of each citation within a few hours. Often that means offenders can take care of the ticket the same day. A bigger business impact is that McAllen court staff saves hours in the day by bypassing manual data entry.
"A couple of data entry people were shifted to other areas. Now they are working on revenue collection versus data entry. For the taxpayers of McAllen, it's a good news story," Eason said.
Additionally, the police department reduces its paper costs. Before, MPD printed new tickets anytime wording changed. Now, the department changes the design and text as needed, with the flexibility to print tickets of any length necessary.
At MPD, tickets must be kept for a minimum of two years. As e-citation expands to the entire police force, MPD will no longer add paper tickets to its physical storage. Instead of running out of storage space over time, MPD eventually will eliminate the need for physical ticket storage altogether. Plus, the e-citations are easily searchable in Brazos Technology's Web-based software.
But the real return on investment comes from the legibility of citations. Offenders can more easily read their copies of tickets, substantially cutting the number of invalidated tickets.
"Tickets are more legible and hence less likely to be thrown out. We have reduced the pool of dismissed tickets by half," Eason said. "With more readable tickets, we capture thousands in additional revenue each year."