July 12, 2010 By Russell Nichols
Now if you get a traffic violation in San Antonio, rather than drive downtown to municipal court, you could choose to see a judge on TV.
This perk is part of an innovative pilot program called Video Court. Launched in June, the program uses modern video-conferencing technology at one of the city's Community Link Centers to give citizens better access to municipal court services.
"There was so much congestion early in the morning with people guilty of traffic violations," said Tony Bosmans, director of customer service/311 systems. "I came up with the idea of Video Court as a way to maximize customer service delivery."
The city established Community Link Centers in various strip malls as a "city store," Bosmans said, where residents can buy birth certificates or apply for electrical permits, among other services. City officials decided to use one of the centers about 10 miles from downtown as a testing ground for the Video Court concept.
"The Community Link Centers have ample parking, and we're on bus routes, so customers can come to us easily," he said. "It also offers a nonthreatening, customer-friendly atmosphere."
Officials converted a conference room into a replica municipal courtroom with state and national flags. At the front of the room is a 52-inch TV, where a municipal court judge appears behind the bench through a live video feed. Through video conferencing, the judge can hear requests for payment arrangements, probation or reduced fines and fees. Then the individual can set up payment plans or go to traffic school with a court clerk on location.
The program uses the center's existing bandwidth, and officials only had to purchase the Tandberg TV equipment, which cost about $1,200, Bosmans said. To be eligible for video court, a citizen must fulfill the following requirements:
Since the launch, Bosmans said about 10 people have gone through Video Court, which is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays. About 60 people have taken advantage of the municipal court service at the center, he added.
When the pilot program ends in six months, local officials will evaluate the Video Court and look into expanding the model to other Community Link Centers with additional service hours.
"This Video Court initiative is another way the city continues to utilize technology to create virtual access to city services," said Municipal Court Clerk Fred Garcia Jr. "Not only will we save time and money, but we will also maximize our existing municipal court resources."