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Wisconsin State Budget May Shut Down Police Access to the 'Google' of Law Enforcement

Officers would not be able to write e-citations or search state police records, law enforcements officials say.

Computers in police cars may be useless if the proposed state budget passes as is, according to police and state officials. 

The state budget denies a request to pay for five staff members to run the Wisconsin Justice Information System (WIJIS), which includes a searchable database of police departments throughout the state and an electronic citation process that makes it easier - and more efficient - for officers to write tickets. 

Officials with the Office of Justice Assistance, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Caledonia Police Department said losing the WIJIS would make the public less safe and departments less efficient.

Tami Jackson, a spokesperson for the Office of Justice Assistance, said the department requested $721,000 in the state budget to pay for the salary and benefits to staff WIJIS, which includes the Justice Gateway system and the electronic citation system. The projects are mostly funded through federal grants and the collection of fines. Jackson said federal funding isn’t suitable for the long-term operation of the program.

“We are asking for money to pay for bodies and chairs,” she said. “We need to maintain these systems and make sure they are working right.”

A proposed bill calls for the end of the data stop collection program, which would also result in the loss of revenue for the electronic citation program. Embedded in the cost of fines for each ticket and charge issued by law enforcement is a data stop collection program fee. Jackson said $1.50 of that goes to help pay for an electronic citation system.

Because of the potential loss of funding, the state would not be able to support the system, Jackson said.

'Google' of Law Enforcement

Among the services in jeopardy is the Justice Gateway project, which Jackson describes as a Google search tool for law enforcement that connects 406 law enforcement agencies and 5,000 law enforcement officers in the state.

Caledonia Police Chief Toby Schey said his department has the in-car computers, which allows police officers to access the Justice Gateway System. The system allows police officers to gain information from outside jurisdictions, including the Wisconsin Circuit Court System, the Racine County District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Transportation, and several other departments.

Schey said the department just put in the printers into the cars to allow them to print out electronic tickets, but he’s not sure about starting the training for issuing the e-tickets because of the uncertainty at the state level.

“Here we are moving ahead to make this work and we’re not getting the support we need in Madison,” Schey said. “Here the governor thinks he’s saving people money, but he’s really not.”

Jim Palmer, the executive director for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, agrees with Schey. Palmer said officer and public safety would be put into jeopardy if the provision were to stay in the budget.

“WIJIS allows information sharing,” Palmer said. “That means if an officer pulls someone over and the officers is in a squad and they didn’t have access to WIJIS; if that person had a warrant from Kenosha, they would never know it.

“So with the governor not funding this, law enforcement officials are more blindly being put into a wide variety of situations ... and that has the ability to hurt law enforcement and will jeopardize public safety.”

System is financially beneficial to taxpayers

Palmer also pointed out that the system saves taxpayers money and increases revenue. Issuing E-citations takes less time to do than handwriting paper tickets, he said.

Officers also don’t have to deliver citations to court or the DA's office, and local departments don't have to input handwritten citations into their databases. 

Because of these efficiencies, departments are also able to write more tickets, Palmer said. When the program started in 2006, officers wrote out 940,000 citations in a year. In 2010, 1.4 million citations were written. That also means that municipalities, counties, schools and the state receive more revenue from those tickets.

Also, the state also stands to lose $50 million in transportation money from the federal government if they fail to have citations submitted to the Department of Transportation within 10 days of writing them, Palmer said.

“This absolutely throws us back into the dark ages,” Palmer said. “To not have this system, it will cost taxpayers much more in the long-term and in the short-term there is an immediate cost to taxpayers.”

Jackson frames the issue around the purpose of law enforcement – to protect and serve.

“Basically the question is: what do you want your public safety officers doing? Do you want them patrolling the streets or doing other things like taking tickets down to the district attorney’s office?” Jackson said.

Eric April 19, 2011 at 08:40 PM
If I read this correctly the removal of funding does not necessarily mean the end of the system as federal grants and ticket money has been used to support it. Lets see if they really need this money first before fund another government program.
DJ April 19, 2011 at 09:27 PM
“Basically the question is: what do you want your public safety officers doing? Do you want them patrolling the streets or doing other things like taking tickets down to the district attorney’s office?” Jackson said." Well I certainly think taking tickets to the district attorney's office is a much better use of time than parking in a parking lot talking to another cop in his car. on top of that, there is only a 40-50ft difference from the police station to the city hall.
DJ April 19, 2011 at 09:31 PM
"Also, the state also stands to lose $50 million in transportation money from the federal government if they fail to have citations submitted to the Department of Transportation within 10 days of writing them, Palmer said." there is no reason that these tickets cannot be turned in within 10 days without the use of a computer in a police car. I mean really, you ticket people, the same day you turn in the copies at end of shift, the next morning they are delivered to DA's office, 2 days max to input in computer system for transportation dept. Wow, how hard is that? or is this a union job and the work ethic is to work slowly?????
Thin Blue Line April 19, 2011 at 10:59 PM
DJ, the Racine County District Attorney's Office is located in downtown Racine at the courthouse. It is not across the street from the Caledonia Police Department. That is the Village Hall.
Denise Lockwood April 19, 2011 at 11:15 PM
Hi Eric and DJ, I think it's important to note what this system does, which may not have been clear in the story. It was started after 911 because of the large information gaps that existed between multiple layers of law enforcement. So the feds said, we'll help local law enforcement get these systems up and running by helping them purchase computers and software, which linked all of these databases together. Tami Jackson said the scope of this IT project is massive -- the system literally connects Wisconsin's Court System, the Department of Justice, hundreds of local law enforcement, numerous district attorney office databases, FBI, the ATF, and numerous other entities together. The purpose of it was to get cops off of paper and could be data mined to provide comprehensive and meaningful information to law enforcement officials at a variety of levels. Because of that, these systems receive tons of data continuously and that requires a lot of maintenance/integration. The feds don't sustain long-term operational projects, so that money is out after this year. To not have the funding for support/maintenance renders the system inoperable and there wouldn't be a central database for the information to even reside. If law enforcement went back to paper and pencil, it would also mean that someone from each department -- doj, doa, dot, DAs offices, ATF, and FBI-- would have to input those tickets into each individual database because the WIJIS system tied all of them together.

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