Study looks at texts sent on fees

A pilot pro­gram found that more peo­ple would pay their fines on time, in full

Tulsa World - - Metro&region - By Kevin Can­field

The city of Tulsa has fig­ured out a way to get more peo­ple to pay their mu­nic­i­pal fines: send them a text.

A six-month pilot pro­gram that ended in Septem­ber found that in­di­vid­u­als who re­ceived a text mes­sage re­mind­ing them that they had a pay­ment due were sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to pay the fine on time and avoid ad­di­tional penal­ties for fail­ure to pay.

Sixty-three per­cent of those who re­ceived a text mes­sage re­minder paid all of their out­stand­ing fines on time, com­pared to 48 per­cent of peo­ple who did not re­ceive a re­minder, ac­cord­ing to the city.

James Wag­ner, the city's chief of per­for­mance dtrat­egy and in­no­va­tion, said the city part­nered with Code for Tulsa and the non­profit What Works Cities to put the pilot pro­gram to­gether at a cost of about $100.

“It proves that you don't

have to spend a year, or six months even, do­ing an RFP (re­quest for pro­posal) for some tech­nol­ogy that you can partner with Code for Tulsa and spend 100 bucks on text mes­sages,” Wag­ner said. “You can do things that are re­ally small scale and test it be­fore you start in­vest­ing in what you think might work.”

Each year, ap­prox­i­mately 22,000 ci­ta­tions fall un­der the the Mu­nic­i­pal Court's pay­ment ex­ten­sion pro­gram known as Time Pay Or­ders. The pro­gram gives in­di­vid­u­als who ap­ply up to six months to pay their court costs af­ter their crim­i­nal cases have been ad­ju­di­cated.

Still, most peo­ple in the Time Pay Or­ders pro­gram fail to pay their court costs in full and on time. Ac­cord­ing to the city, his­tor­i­cally the court costs for 70 per­cent, or 16,000, of the ci­ta­tions that fall un­der the pro­gram an­nu­ally are not paid in full and on time, prompt­ing war­rants for fail­ure to pay to be is­sued to the vi­o­la­tors.

The city es­ti­mates that the 15 per­cent in­crease in the num­ber of on-time pay­ments dur­ing the pilot pro­gram equates to 320 peo­ple pay­ing out­stand­ing fees on time and raised $187,000 the city might not have seen other­wise.

“The text re­minders re­sulted in a win/win sit­u­a­tion for the de­fen­dants and the depart­ment,” said Kelly Brader, mu­nic­i­pal court ad­min­is­tra­tor. “The de­fen­dants ful­filled their obli­ga­tions to the court, re­duced the risk of a war­rant be­ing is­sued and hav­ing their driv­ing priv­i­leges (re­voked) for fail­ure to pay, and the court did not have to file ad­di­tional war­rants.”

Im­ple­ment­ing the Mu­nic­i­pal Court text mes­sag­ing pro­gram was sim­ple, thanks to Code for Tulsa, Wag­ner said.

“All Mu­nic­i­pal Court had to do was go and en­ter about 30 names a day and their phone num­bers onto a spread­sheet, and their (Code for Tulsa's) lit­tle com­puter pro­gram or script would go and look at that spread­sheet that day” and cre­ate the text mes­sages, Wag­ner said.

The test sam­ple in­cluded about 1,900 peo­ple. Each re­ceived a text mes­sage once a month, sent at 5:30 p.m., to re­mind them of their need to make a pay­ment. In all, Wag­ner fig­ures the city sent out about 7,500 re­minders.

The pilot pro­gram is a good ex­am­ple of the city work­ing with the pub­lic to im­prove Tulsa and serves as a re­minder that “we can't do it alone at City Hall,” Wag­ner said.

City of­fi­cials will meet next week with Code for Tulsa to be­gin dis­cussing how the tex­ting pro­gram can be ex­panded not only to other parts of the Mu­nic­i­pal Court sys­tem but to other city de­part­ments.

“I think that is just a mat­ter of finding the right partner for the tech­nol­ogy,” Wag­ner said. “So it might be Code for Tulsa, it might be some­body who has al­ready de­vel­oped some­thing like this for this pur­pose.”

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