MONTEREY PARK — As she cruised by the Hong Kong Super Market, Officer Judy Lesinsky spotted a seafood delivery truck that blocked not just one, but two handicapped parking spaces.
"That's definitely a violation," Lesinsky said. As she stepped from her vehicle, she carried not the traditional ticket pad, but a hand-held computer.
Lesinsky punched a series of fingertip-sized keys, answering programmed questions. The computer automatically recorded the time and date on its two-line display screen. From a menu of items, she picked the appropriate violation. The fine, $103, automatically appeared.
After editing the ticket, Lesinsky pushed a button and the computer's tiny printer spit out a slender, yellow citation.
In April, Monterey Park joined 19 other police agencies around the country which use a computer known as Auto/CITE, manufactured and marketed by Enforcement Technology Inc. of Santa Ana.
Seventeen of the 20 agencies using the device are in California--in Paramount, West Hollywood, Laguna Beach, Monterey, Walnut Creek and other cities. Long Beach will begin using dhe computers next week and San Diego, next month, said Enforcement Technology President Gary Ward, a former police sergeant in Carlsbad.
The company sells and leases the computers and equipment required for the ticketing system. It also handles the processing of tickets and follow-up notices for negligent violators, works with the court system and collects fines for the city.
It also provides statistical analyses of the types of violations and where they occur.
"The computer is much more efficient, probably by 30% just in doing the job of writing tickets," Monterey Park Police Capt. Joseph Santoro said.
The device allows an officer to speed through a list of 50 possible violations. The first that automatically appear are those that occur most often in Monterey Park. The computer's memory lists 250 street names in the city and it can be preset when an officer is working a certain street, so the street name is automatically printed when the officer hits a single key.
"And it absolutely eliminates the paper flow," Santoro said. The only paper is the ticket left on a violator's windshield.
At the end of each shift, officers connect the computers to a device that transfers the ticket information to a personal computer at police headquarters. The data are then transmitted to Enforcement Technology.
The two-pound portable computer has other advantages that police like. Each unit can hold information on as many as 5,000 license plates. It was a parking ticket that led police to the "Son of Sam" murderer in New York City in 1977.
At its most basic, the device can help track habitual offenders and ticket scofflaws. Monterey Park police use the computer to identify vehicles that have five or more outstanding tickets, and thus can be legally towed.
Police records supervisor Mary Ream, who saw the device at a conference, suggested using it as a cost-saving measure. The system, Santoro said, frees two records clerks. But how much money it saves is uncertain. Enforcement Technology charges the city $1.05 for each ticket, including any follow-up. Last year the department issued 21,000 tickets.
Changes in city parking rules make it difficult to judge the success of the ticketing program, Santoro said. The city has recently expanded by 75% the number of streets included under a ban on parking when the streets are swept.
One advantage of the system is certain: its accuracy. With its date and time function, "when the ticket says it was 7:30, it was 7:30," said traffic bureau Sgt. George L. Hicks. "That eliminates the violator who says 'My car wasn't there at 7:30 in the morning.' "
Also, he said, the computer prints in an easy-to-read type that may eliminate confusion for those who have difficulty reading English. So far, Hicks said, "no one has complained about the use of the computer ticketing."
And, Santoro said, "if somebody says they want to fight a ticket in court, they still have the same rights as before."
As Lesinsky finished printing the ticket at the Hong Kong Super Market, the truck driver demanded to know why he was getting a ticket. Lesinsky explained, and then handed him the $103 citation.
"If somebody's yelling and screaming, that's when we make the most errors," she said as the man drove away. "But you can still print out the perfect citation with this."