If you drive in or through Bellaire, this is a heads-up.
It is now a lot easier and faster for Bellaire police officers to write traffic tickets.
That's because of a new computer software program installed about six months ago in Bellaire police officers' patrol cars and motorcycles that automatically "reads" drivers' licenses, prints computer-generated tickets and automatically transmits that information to the city's Municipal Court.
The new Virtual Partner software, purchased from Florida-based Advanced Public Safety, also makes Bellaire police officers safer on the streets because a "voice" in the software program alerts them when a license plate indicates a vehicle is stolen or if a driver has outstanding warrants.
The software can even tell police officers if a license plate belongs to a suspected terrorist.
'An amazing thing'"It is an amazing thing. It has less to do with speed as it has to do with officer safety and, in addition to officer safety, the public's safety," said Officer Russell Brown, director of records for the Bellaire Police Department. "The less time they spend out there parked on the side of the freeway, the safer they are."
A key component of the software allows officers to hear a voice response when they type in license plate numbers, eliminating the need for officers to read their computer screens, Brown said. There have been safety issues if police officers try to drive and read information on the laptop computers in their patrol cars, Brown said.
"The No. 1 thing is the officers' safety," Brown said. "Anything that allows them to keep their eyes on the road and on the violator is worth it."
The new software also eliminates the need for officers to scan through pages of "cryptic" information, because the system is designed to pick out the most critical information.
Just having a little extra knowledge before approaching a driver in a traffic stop improves the safety of police officers, Brown said.
And the new software provides for more accurate and timely information on traffic tickets.
"Just being able to read the writing on the ticket, and the fact that it is transmitted automatically to the court system, reduces the need for court personnel to spend time transcribing all that information," Brown said.
Brown said he recently spent several hours training Bellaire police officers on all aspects of Virtual Partner. By the end of the week, one patrol officer enthusiastically reported that he expected to run out of printer paper, Brown said.
Even though the technology is cutting edge, Brown said using the program "is about as simple as we could make it."
Brown, who is also Web master for the Bellaire Police Departments' Web site at www.bellairepolice.com, said he learned about Virtual Partner technology while attending a regional meeting of public safety officers who coordinate their departments' computer systems and record keeping.
Virtual Partner was designed and written by Jeffrey P. Rubenstein, an attorney who developed the software while working as an auxiliary police officer for the city of Del Ray Beach, Fla., and then started his company, Advanced Public Safety.
"As a law enforcement officer, it's critically important that I be able to run license tags while driving my patrol vehicle. This makes the driving much safer," Rubenstein said in a telephone interview.
In addition, the information provided "almost instantaneously" by the computer-generated voice — which sounds like a real person — gives police an added measure of safety, said Rubenstein, who still works part-time as an officer.
Increase in safety"There's a two-fold increase in safety for police officers on the street," he said. "They are driving and not having to look at the computers, and two, they have a lot more information in real time before they walk up to a vehicle.
"Now they have information that gives them heightened awareness or alerts them to call for back up when necessary."
Several other police departments in Texas cities, including El Paso, Richardson, Pflugerville, Rockport, Killeen, Lancaster, Burleson and Falfurrias, are using the technology.
The electronic ticketing also reduces time officers spend writing tickets and improves the accuracy of traffic citations, Rubenstein said.
The new system will not necessarily mean that it will be harder for a traffic violator to "talk their way out of" a ticket, Brown said.
"There's really no effect in that respect. It's always the officers' discretion as to whether a citation is written," said Brown, who added that the number of "warning" tickets issued in Bellaire exceeds the number of citations written.
The Virtual Partner software cost the city about $12,000.
That price included the cost of new printers, a custom design of Bellaire's traffic citations and the automatic transfer system to the Municipal Court, Brown said.
"I would hazard aguess to say that the new system has already paid for itself," Brown said.