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.