SHENANDOAH HEIGHTS — West Mahanoy Township police have implemented several state-of-the-art systems designed to protect both their officers and the drivers they pull over during traffic stops.
Officers are using an automatic license plate reader, recording traffic stops using in-car cameras and then issuing citations, when required, using an Internet system that files paperwork immediately via email at the office of the respective magisterial district judge.
Patrolman Ray Tonkinson, sitting along Route 924 near the Tasty Freeze restaurant, monitored traffic traveling toward Shenandoah, his LPR capturing the registration plate of every vehicle that passed.
He explained that once the Plate Smart License Plate Reader scans a license plate, it immediately checks to see if it is expired, suspended, stolen, the subject of an Amber Alert or for a wanted person.
Tonkinson explained that when a violation is found, a warning is given through the laptop computer in the vehicle identifying the violation.
Although a violation may be indicated, the officer said West Mahanoy officers take an additional step before pulling that vehicle over. Tonkinson said police will follow the vehicle and run the registration number through the Schuylkill County Communications Center to verify a violation exists prior to the stop. If emergency dispatchers indicate a violation exists, officers then proceed to make a vehicle stop that is recorded on an in-car camera.
By recording a traffic stop, or traffic violation, Tonkinson said any questions that may arise are eliminated.
“It is right there on video,” he said. “This is good not only for the police officers but for the public, as well.”
Once a vehicle is stopped, the third part of the technological advancements comes into play.
Tonkinson said the department uses an e-citation system that, until recently, was only used by Pennsylvania State Police troopers.
The first municipal police department in Schuylkill County to use the system, Tonkinson said officers choose the violation or violations, scan the registration card and scan the person’s drivers license with the bar code and the information such as age, address and more is then transferred to the computer citation program.
It then prints a copy for the driver and automatically emails a copy to the district court.
He explained that the hand-written citations had 62 lines and often an officer’s handwriting would be difficult to read.
With the new system, Tonkinson said, everything is clearly printed and the driver is able to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges almost immediately at the district court. In the past, police citations could take time to make their way to the court, he said, adding that this system allows officer to get back on duty as soon as possible.
In addition to the time-saving feature, the program eliminates errors since everything is calculated by a computer and not a human being.
“It does all the math,” Tonkinson said. “There is no human error.”
West Mahanoy Township police Chief Shawn Tray said although the camera and license plate reader have been in operation for some time, the e-citation system was implemented last month.
He said a lot of research was done before the township decided on what system to purchase and the current system is what the doctor — or, in this case, police officer — ordered.
“There are a lot of systems out there but and we decided on the system that works best for us,” he said.
The chief said using technology allows officers to sit safely on the side of a road, read the license plates of vehicles and take whatever action may be necessary.
By using the three systems — license plate reader, camera and e-citation — the margin for error is greatly reduced, if not eliminated.
“It allows for a successful prosecution,” Tray said.