The Prairie Village Police Department is transitioning out of traditional pen and paper systems and into the age of electronics, according to Police Chief Wes Jordan and Technical Operations officer Kyle Shipps. Efficiency is expected to rise and benefit the public as electronic ticket writing, electronic fingerprinting, license plate reading devices and new Sports Utility Vehicle purchases are being put into effect.
According to Officer Shipps, a normal traffic stop takes about 10 minutes. With a new electronic ticketing system, which will be deployed in two vehicles in May, traffic stop durations are expected to reduce to around three minutes per stop. The system is a form of card scanner attached to the laptop in police cars, and replaces the old system for ticket writing in which officers had to manually write down every detail.
Now, when a driver’s license is swiped in the machine, all the officer has to do is choose the type of violation. The equipment will automatically factor the fines, issue the court date and spit out the copy as well as send a copy to the court system. Chief Jordan emphasizes that the main goal of electronic ticketing is not to issue more tickets, but to improve the safety and timeliness of traffic stops.
“One of the things about improving efficiency is the fact that the officer doesn’t have to sit there and write out a ticket, he can simply swipe [the driver’s license] and improve upon the stop time,” Chief Jordan said. “Drivers don’t like to be inconvenienced, and traffic stops are also dangerous. The more we can reduce time spent on traffic stops, the more we can mitigate the possibility of an accident.”
A new license plate reader (LPR) system was deployed in April after undergoing a year of testing. The LPR is a set of three cameras on the police car that are constantly taking pictures of every license plate the car passes. Simultaneously, it is running them through the police database to pull warrants, missing persons, thefts and other offenses. If the LPR reads a plate matched in the database it will set off an alarm.
The sounding of this alarm gives officers probable cause to stop that car and investigate it. From there, arrests can be made. Chief Jordan assures citizens that although license plates are public information, the data taken in from the LPR is not stored in their system permanently.
The first time the LPR was tested a year ago, it was able to identify a stolen vehicle in front of the police car at the McDonald’s drive through on State Line. Throughout the year-long testing period, the PVPD found it to be a cost-effective tool. The money that paid for it came out of drug seizure money, but each time an arrest is made with the LPR, money that can be recovered from arrests goes back into the budget to be used for future purchases.
“It is a return on the investments when we are able to quickly and efficiently locate outstanding warrants, missing persons, stolen property,” Officer Shipps said. “We don’t use it to stop cars and make tickets, we use it to make arrests, and I know many times I will see that an arrest has been made due to an LPR hit. It’s definitely exceeded our expectations.”
This addition to the cars, along with the electronic ticket writer, came from the technology budget for the department. The budget provides for technological advances, funded partially by the jail tax raised when building the jail in Gardner several years ago, as well as funds from drug seizure money. Budgeting and planning what these funds will be used to purchase is an important process for Prairie Village administrations according to Shipps.
“Our administrations are really good about planning ahead—five, six years—and budgeting for it, so when the time comes around the money is available,” Shipps said. “This is very important, so we aren’t stealing from other budgets to purchase equipment.”
In order to get a new purchase approved, members of the PVPD must first go through the PV City Council. A presentation outlining the benefits, expenses, payment plan and all other aspects of the device must be given to council members. Additionally, the device must be justifiable in terms of how and what kinds of benefits it will offer the community before it gets the stamp of approval for purchase.
“Any new big improvement that requires additional funds that haven’t already been budgeted have to come before the city council for approval,” PV City councilwoman Laura Wassmer said. “It all comes back to what we know our residents will be supportive of. One of the top things [residents] say they put as a priority in Prairie Village is the police coverage. They like having police officers and feeling safe with the attention that our police department provides.”
Other advancements in the past few years that have been approved by the department and city council include the purchase of SUVs for the supervising officers, sergeants and corporals, to accommodate all the gear they have to haul around on a daily basis. Four Ford Sedans were purchased because of their all-wheel drive feature, improving safety in the winter and in bad conditions. Finally, electronic fingerprinting was deployed this year in anticipation of the FBI no longer accepting ink-based prints.
According to Shipps, even with these recent advancements, the department continues to look towards the future. Within the next five years, Shipps hopes to replace all outdated laptops and camera systems in the cars, and make general upgrades from outdated equipment, all in the hopes of being able to be more responsive to the community.
“It makes us more available now,” Officer Shipps said. “With computers in the cars, the officers can be out in the field and more responsive to the citizens without having to come back to the station. That’s the biggest benefit to them; that we are more available to the community through the use of these advances in technology.”