App Aims To Take The Risk Out of Routine Traffic Stops

University of Florida News Many police officers will tell you the riskiest parts of their job are responding to domestic violence calls and making traffic stops. A group of University of Florida students has come up with a way to make the latter a little less dangerous – for everyone. The group, all students in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering department of computer and information science and engineering, developed Virtual Traffic Stop, an app that allows the officer and the driver to remain in their vehicles during routine stops. Members of the student team that created Virtual Traffic Stop, from left to right: Dekita Moon (CISE PhD Student), Isabel Laurenceau (CISE undergrad and now PhD student), Michelle Emamdie (CISE undergrad), and Jessica Jones (CISE PhD Student). Photo by Lyon Duong. While the idea was inspired by a series of police shootings starting with events in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015, the students say their goal is to make the interaction between law enforcement and citizens safer for all involved. “At the end of the day, everyone just wants to make it home,” said team member and doctoral student DeKita Moon. Said her fellow team member and doctoral student Jessica Jones: “The goal is not to keep the police and the community separate; the goal is to keep the police and the community safe.” Here’s how it works: A motorist downloads the app and enters their vehicle information, driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Police download a different version of the app that an officer can use on his or her laptop. When the officer stops a driver, the officer enters the vehicle’s license plate number and can see the driver’s information. The officer can then request a real-time video conference with the driver. The app also makes it possible to bring a third party into the interaction — for instance, the parent of a minor or a translator to help someone whose knowledge of English may be limited. For routine stops, the students said, the interaction could be conducted entirely from the safety of the vehicles involved. But police will also tell you that they gather much valuable information from the face-to-face encounter – the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, for example. That would still be possible. Jones said if an officer sees anything during the video conference that raises concern or prompts suspicion, he or she could still approach the driver in person. The app, team members say, would also reduce the risk officers face stepping out onto the shoulder of a busy highway or during dangerous weather conditions. In addition, they say, it would address the fear some motorists experience being pulled over at night and not knowing whether the person in the vehicle behind them is actually a cop. “Virtual Traffic Stop has the potential to save lives. That statement alone justifies testing this app. If we can save a single life with this app, it’s worth it,” said Juan Gilbert, chairman of UF’s computer and information science and engineering department and Andrew Banks Preeminence Chair in Engineering. The team is working with two law enforcement agencies in hopes of launching a pilot program to try the app in real-world settings this summer. If all goes well, they say, the app could be available to consumers later this year. The team also was scheduled to present Virtual Traffic Stop at the National Academy of Inventors sixth annual meeting in Boston in April.

About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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