While serving as chair of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee, one of my goals has been to get the council more educated about and involved in the city’s court system. For too long, the city had neglected the municipal courts, resulting in back-logged cases, a low collection rate on fines, out-of-date or non-existent court technology, poor customer service, and an inefficient use of tax dollars and city resources.
So for the last three years, we have improved how we select our municipal judges as well as embarked on a much-needed efficiency study of our courts. Both efforts have resulted in substantial improvements in our court system, and provide a blueprint for continued changes.
I remember when Councilmember Jerry Allen and I toured our municipal courts three years ago along with judges, bailiffs, court administrators, police, and prosecutors. One thing that stood out was the inefficient system for processing police citations.
Boxes of handwritten tickets were delivered to the court daily. The tickets were sorted by one group of people, scanned in by another, then another group manually entered the information into the computer system. The process was not only unnecessarily labor-intensive, but rife with opportunity for mistakes. If a date were mistyped or a name entered incorrectly at any point in the process, the ticket could be tossed. That meant people violating the rules of the road would go unpunished, as well as revenue being lost to the city. The process could take as long as ten days to enter a citation into the computer system. So if you wanted to pay your citation, you couldn’t for at least ten days.
So yesterday, the Council approved a contract for a new “e-citation” process which will help eliminate this tedious and outdated manual paper ticket process currently used by our police and courts.
Phase 1 of the new system will cost $620,000 over five years but will result in saving and revenue enhancements of $1,370,000. This project is part of the ongoing implementation of our efficiency study, and in January and February, we will bring to additional changes before the council for approval.
Over the last year and a half, we’ve made significant progress:
- Collection of fines is up $3 million
- Average revenue per case is up from $69 to $83
- Docket capacity is up 70%
- The time it takes to get a court date has been reduced from 9 months to 3 months
I’m proud of these significant improvements to our court system and pleased to have had the opportinity to work with my council colleagues and city staff who were equally committed to making these much-needed changes.