A nonprofit is working with Minnesota law enforcement agencies to fix broken car lights instead of handing out tickets.
MicroGrants, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, has launched a program called “Lights On!” to fix peoples’ car lights, but instead of punishing them by pulling them over and giving them a citation, officers are instead giving vouchers to repair the lights for free.
“There’s no other program like it and it is such a logical solution,” said Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member and head of the nonprofit.
“It’s totally upending the dynamics of a traffic stop,” he said.
Agencies from Duluth to Rochester are signing up for the program according to a report in The Star Tribune. Now, if an officer sees someone with broken headlights or taillights, they have the option to give that motorist a free voucher that can be redeemed at one of the 150 local auto shops.
The program, which has received notable donations from the Minnesota Vikings and the Joyce Foundation, has now expanded to 100 agencies across Minnesota, covering 90% of communities in the state. The nonprofit has also garnered attention nationally, and has partnered outside the state with agencies in Kansas, Tennessee, Iowa and New York. For departments in Minnesota, the program is for free. For other states, the departments have to pay half.
“There’s an urgency in law enforcement for this program,” Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate said. Chief Tate has 50 officers in his department who have participated for the last few years. “An overwhelming amount of officers want to do the right thing. This is a tool to bridge the gap.”
Since its foundation, the program has helped fix more than 4,000 light bulbs, often helping low-income Minnesotans and communities of color who are more likely to get pulled over. In Minneapolis, nearly half of the voucher recipients are Black.
Samuels says the program is a simple way to ease relationships between the Black community and law enforcement.
“It’s pretty significant,” said Eden Prairie Sgt. Tom Lowery of the repair voucher, which the west metro Police Department started handing out earlier this year. “It just helps build relationships.”
In January last year, the Minneapolis Police Department even changed its ticketing policy to only handing out vouchers for broken lights, and only giving out tickets if the broken part led to a crash or injury.
“It’s changing the conversation and tone of a traffic stop,” Tate said. “This is a big deal for cops. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t want to write a ticket.”
The nonprofit was inspired to create the program after Philando Castile was fatally shot in a 2016 traffic stop after being pulled over for a broken taillight. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, said he shot Castile because he thought he was reaching for a gun. He was the first Minnesota police officer in modern history to be charged with the shooting death of a civilian, but was later acquitted.