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6,128 speeding citations
15,831 total moving traffic citations (approximate)

Hamilton County
3,836 total moving traffic citations
Source: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, city of Chattanooga

For decades, Chattanooga police have relied on pen and paper to write traffic tickets.

The form has 78 blanks that officers must scribble by hand: address, phone, license number. Vehicle model, color, year. Offense, badge number, signature. More than 25,000 times last year in Chattanooga and Hamilton County combined.

After filling the ticket out, the officer gives one copy to the driver and puts another copy in a locked metal box at the police department. The tickets in that box are then handed over to Hamilton County Sessions Court or Chattanooga City Court.

But that will soon change.

Chattanooga police have purchased 250 hand-held e-citation machines — thick, palm-sized devices that can create digital traffic tickets.

The machines can scan a driver's license and automatically fill out much of the basic information on a ticket so officers don't need to copy the information by hand. Then officers can use the devices to quickly — and digitally — add other details.

Instead of going into a metal box, the e-tickets will then be sent directly to court via each patrol car's cellular hot spot.

"It automates the process so tickets aren't lost and are more accurate," police Chief Fred Fletcher said Wednesday.

The city allocated $577,000 to the police department for the e-citation machines in the 2014-15 capital budget, and police have since spent $312,000 to buy the actual machines.

Although the purchase was in the budget before Fletcher took office, he said he believes the technology will save officers time, reduce errors and increase the department's overall efficiency.

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Chattanooga police Chief Fred Fletcher holds a new e-citation machine for creating digital traffic tickets on Wednesday at the Police Services Center.
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A book of current paper citations is seen at the Police Services Center. The paper citations will be replaced by e-citation machines.

"I like anything that has officers spending less time on time-consuming tasks," he said. "It doesn't seem like a lot, but if you can take a ticket from 12 minutes of writing to two or three, and you multiply that by 10 tickets a day, all the sudden you've freed up a couple hours where an officer can get out of his car, go stand on a front porch, make a connection or solve a problem."

The machines have been purchased, but they haven't yet been distributed to patrol officers because the patrol cars aren't equipped to handle the devices, Fletcher said. Each car's cellular hot spot needs to be boosted so it can support multiple connected devices.

Much of the remaining budgeted money will be used to update those hot spots, police said.

It's part of a departmentwide push to add technology that can increase efficiency, Fletcher said, and boosting the in-car hot spot will also set the department up to add more technology in the future.

"When we start talking about things like mobile computer-aided dispatch, body-worn cameras, GPS — we need the connectivity," he said.

Fletcher also plans to ask the City Council to fund a gunshot tracking system that can pinpoint the location of gunfire to within 10 feet and alert nearby officers within minutes. That program is browser-based and could be accessed from officers' in-car laptops, according to the company.

Chattanooga police issued more than 15,000 traffic citations during 2014, according to Chattanooga City Court, including citations for improper lane changes, improper passing, running a stop sign or following too closely.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office issued almost 4,000 traffic citations during 2014, said spokeswoman Janice Atkinson. She added that the department is not using e-citation machines at this time.

Fletcher said the 250 e-citation machines will cover most patrol officers — the department has about 380 marked patrol cars, but many of those are used by supervisors or specialized officers who don't need to write tickets regularly.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas.