LAWTON – Two decades into the 21st century, the City of Lawton is embracing technology in a big way.
The Police Department is acquiring digital devices for writing traffic tickets, City Hall is procuring equipment to enable customers to pay their utility bills with credit cards, and online portals have been created for tracking capital improvement projects and for reporting non-emergency issues.
For decades Lawton police officers have written traffic tickets by hand, but modernization is underway.
The department acquired 50 handheld eCitation personal digital assistants (PDA) under a contract the city council approved on Nov. 12, 2019. Additional batteries were purchased so the devices could be swapped between work shifts. To protect against the spread of the coronavirus, the PDAs need to be sanitized at each shift change, “which may affect the useful life of the devices,” Police Chief James Smith advised the City Council.
Procuring additional eCitation instruments would “limit the handling of the devices by multiple officers,” Smith said.
Accordingly, the City Council on Aug. 25 approved the purchase of 100 more of the personal digital assistant devices from Tyler Technologies at a cost of $307,886.
The Lawton Police Department is budgeted for 228 fulltime positions, 134 of whom are in the Uniform Division (a/k/a Patrol).
Gwendolyn Spencer, the city’s information technology director, said all of the eCitation instruments have been programmed by Tyler to operate with Brazos software.
SEVERAL BENEFITS OF E-TICKETING
The city will realize several benefits from e-ticketing, city officials said.
“Now, a traffic ticket is touched by five people,” Mayor Stan Booker said. “When we implement e-ticketing, one person will touch that ticket and it will be placed in the court system automatically.”
E-ticketing will enhance public safety by reducing “in-person interaction during the enforcement process,” Chief Smith said. For example, it will minimize the possibility that a stop could escalate into a confrontation. Also, during a traffic stop the officer and the motorist alike are at potential risk of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.
E-ticketing also will shave the time that municipal court staff is involved in processing traffic tickets, City Manager Michael Cleghorn said.
“Our goal is to reduce the time involved in writing a traffic ticket to 5 minutes or less,” Cleghorn said. “We want to use our officers’ time more efficiently.”
Last year the city purchased $1.3 million in body cameras for the police department, to record officer interactions with drivers and other members of the public.
And the department has installed mobile data machines in police patrol cars, enabling officers to quickly determine whether a driver has outstanding tickets or warrants, or whether a motor vehicle has been stolen.
PAYING WATER BILL WITH CREDIT CARD
City Hall has contracted with Tyler Technologies to provide a suite of products which also includes equipment that will enable Lawtonians to use a credit or debit card to pay their utility bills and municipal court fines, Cleghorn related. Of course, residents also can continue to pay with cash, checks or money orders, he added.
The use of technology enhances transparency, accountability, and customer convenience, the city manager said. Credit/debit cards are ubiquitous throughout American society today, he noted.
Currently water bills can be paid with a credit or debit card only online via the City of Lawton website, but not in over-the-counter transactions. However, a Tyler Technologies portal goes live on Oct. 1, and Tyler credit/debit card terminals should be installed in municipal buildings “by the first of October,” Cleghorn said.
The per-card fee for a non-utility transaction (such as paying a municipal court traffic fine) with Visa, Master Card, Discover or American Express will be 2.75% of the total, with a 95¢ minimum.
For utility bills paid with Visa, Mastercard or Discovery, the fee for transactions of up to $300 will be $3.25.
Other customer fees include 75¢ per electronic check transaction and an administrative fee of $1 per transaction.
The city will incur a charge of 50¢ per transaction and a monthly fee of $20 for each Tyler terminal. “We don’t have a set number of terminals yet,” Cleghorn said recently. Those fees will be offset with the $1 per transaction administrative fee, Finance Director Kara Haynes said.
The new card processing/ online payment fees go into effect Sept. 25.
Customers who wish to make over-the-counter payments but do not have a check, cash or money order can utilize ATMs located in City of Lawton buildings, for a fee of $3.50 per transaction.
The Payments credit card readers are third-party devices that have been programmed by Tyler Technologies to operate with Tyler Cashiering software, Ms. Spencer said.
CITY’S WEBSITE OFFERS SEVERAL ONLINE TOOLS
The City of Lawton website at https://www.lawtonok. gov/ provides information on how to contact every city department.
Booker mentioned the “iHelp Lawton” portal at https://www.lawtonok.gov/ node/3795, an online customer service tool for expressing concerns or complaints about non-emergency issues pertaining to streets, refuse, blight, or parks.
The portal pinpoints the date and location of reports of potholes, requests for bulk trash pickup, complaints about abandoned vehicles, dilapidated houses and overgrown weeds, and issues such as a city park pond infested with algae and another with a broken slide. The portal also relates the disposition of the report.
Another online tool is the Citizens Capital Improvement Portal, which contains up-to- date information on the status of CIP projects throughout Lawton. That portal can be accessed by going to the main page of the city’s website, scrolling down about halfway to “Featured Services,” then clicking on “Capital Projects”.
“My goal is: If you don’t want to come to City Hall, you won’t have to,” Cleghorn said. “We want to make our services as convenient and efficient as possible for our citizens.”
“Things are happening; we’re changing this city,” Booker said. “We want to become the most efficient city in the state.”