Windsor Town Council considers investing in e-ticketing system

Published 5:51 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

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The Windsor Town Council discussed during a work session Feb. 1 the possibility of using American Rescue Plan Act funds to allow the Windsor Police Department to install an electronic ticketing system called digiTICKET.

William Saunders

Town Manager William Saunders noted in a memo to the mayor and the Town Council that the system would modernize and streamline the issuance of citations and the corresponding data collection related to those police-and-citizen encounters.

This is a program that can potentially be done in concert with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office for an overall cost savings due to an economy of scale, Saunders continued, adding that the sheriff’s office has the implementation of the system in its fiscal year 2023 budget.

During the work session, Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle said the cost for his department, on its own, to get the system up and running would be about $35,000.

“That number is designed for us to fly solo,” he said, noting the amount would be lower if the county is involved.

Councilman Walter Bernacki asked if maintenance costs for digiTICKET would be in addition to the $35,000.

“Once the system is up and running, it would ‘self-fund,’” Riddle said.

In order to fund the ongoing maintenance of the system, an ordinance provision is required to authorize the collection of a $5 fee per citation or set of citations for a given event.

“Every set of citations issued would generate a $5 fee that would go back to the town, and that money is, again, allocated and earmarked only for that system,” Riddle said.

Saunders, in his memo wrote, “A draft ordinance will be going before the (Isle of Wight County) Board of Supervisors within the next two months for their review and approval in order to begin the building of the maintenance fund. We intend to have an ordinance provision before Town Council within the next two months for review, as well.”

Mayor Glyn T. Willis noted during the work session that the need for law enforcement agencies to report data from their interactions with the public is increasing, and the need for accuracy in that data is ever increasing.

Riddle highlighted one of the key state laws that requires a lot of data reporting that he and his department are managing now — the Virginia Community Policing Act.

“It’s an unfunded mandate from the state: ‘You’ll collect this data. You’ll report this data. How you collect it, how you report it — that’s your problem. That’s what you’re going to do,’” he said.

He said he and the WPD looked into building new modules inside of existing software that they had to help with the data collection and reporting process.

“The number was $135,000, if I remember correctly, to build that module into it, and that’s a joint venture between us and the county,” he said. “Nobody has the money for this.”

He said he and his department have had to work through the process of how to streamline this data collection, ensure that it’s accurate and then start dealing with the changes to the data requirements.

“At first it was (for) traffic stops,” he said. “Now it’s anything that’s an investigatory stop.”

Riddle explained where data collection stands now while his department operates without digiTICKET.

“We stop a car, we write several summonses, only some of that information is captured,” he said. “None of the intelligence-gathering information is there; what the vehicle information is, who’s operating it, what date, what time, what location — none of that is captured anywhere because we don’t have time to manually capture that. It’s simply beyond what we can do.”

Responding to Riddle, Willis said, “I understand. (digiTICKET) gives us a tool to capture things so that we can more accurately assess and report.”

“Absolutely,” Riddle said.

Riddle took some time to expand on different ways this electronic ticketing system would benefit the WPD.

“Really, for us, I think the biggest benefit to this is we’re going to be able to track a lot of information,” he said. “I think in the last 12 months, we’ve seen some of the need to have super-accurate data, and this allows you to take a deeper dive into what you’re doing.” 

On Dec. 30, shortly before his term in office ended, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring sued the town of Windsor, alleging the Windsor Police Department has operated in a discriminatory and illegal manner by engaging in a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing. The lawsuit listed the period of WPD activity being examined as July 2020 through September 2021. 

The lawsuit stemmed from a Dec. 5, 2020, traffic stop in Windsor of Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, a man of Black and Latino descent, who was held at gunpoint and pepper-sprayed after two Windsor Police officers pulled him over in town. Nazario sued last spring, bringing the body camera video to light, which went viral.

A statement from the town in response to the lawsuit stated that the data on traffic stops and searches Herring used is questionable.

Continuing his elaboration on ways digiTICKET would benefit his department, Riddle said, “I think one of the things we’re seeing is discrepancies between what’s required of the Community Policing Data Act, which is one base of information that requires a certain set of data, and then our general statistics stuff that we run through a totally other system, which is a whole other set of data points that are input, so the things are not similar. But (digiTICKET) will allow us to track at a much greater depth all the things that we want to have information on or would be helpful to us when we need it.”

He mentioned that the system would also shorten encounters between police and citizens during a stop.

“I think anytime you can shorten a police-and-citizen encounter, I think you’re headed in the right direction there,” he said. “If we take these stops from eight to 12 minutes on average and knock them down to four to seven minutes, it (leaves) less time for things to go south.”

Also, instead of verbal warnings, digiTICKET will allow WPD to print written warnings for people, he said. 

“So, it just gives us some more options, and I think it’s a quality product, and I think with what you’re seeing and the data that the commonwealth wants us to track, I think this is probably the best way to do it,” he said. “It’s clean, it’s efficient, and it gets done.”

Willis said this is something he thinks the town has the opportunity to proceed with because a lot of the evaluation and study of it has already been done.

“So potentially we will have some more discussion on this next Tuesday at our regular council meeting,” he said.