MINNEAPOLIS — Pulled over for a broken taillight in Hennepin County? Instead of getting a reprimand, you may now get some help.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is joining more than 70 other Minnesota departments taking part in a repair voucher program called "Lights On!" Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 29, deputies will no longer issue fix-it tickets for broken headlights, taillights, brake lights or turn signals. Instead, they'll hand out vouchers to have the issue fixed at a participating auto service provider.
The program is a partnership between MicroGrants, a Minneapolis nonprofit, and local law enforcement. MicroGrants' mission is to help low-income people break the cycle of poverty.
"It's not longer a violation, you can almost call it an opportunity," said Don Samuels, CEO of MicroGrants.
If cited, the driver has 60 days to take their car into a participating shop and redeem their coupon for a free bulb replacement. The shops charge MicroGrants a reduced cost for labor and parts, but drivers seldom have to pay a dime.
"They'll pay up to $250 dollars to repair wiring or other issues," said Jeff Bahe, owner of Bobby and Steve's in Columbia Heights. "I think it's probably the difference between somebody buying groceries and getting their car fixed."
The program started two years ago with 20 Minneapolis area departments and a handful of Bobby and Steve's repair shops taking part. MicroGrants came up with it as a way to repair community/police relations after the death of Philando Castile, who was shot during a traffic stop in 2016.
"Before his death, Philando had been pulled over something like 49 times, many times for headlight or tail light violations," Samuels said. "We're not just preventing confrontations with police but actually enhancing communication and solving the problem."
It appears to be working. Minneapolis Police implemented the program and saw a nearly 27% drop in equipment violations in 2019. Across the region, Lights On! has already helped replace more than 1,200 bulbs with an even bigger expansion to come.
"We recently got a grant of $900,000 from a single donor to expand this program across the state and across the country," Samuels said.
According to the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, people who ignore fix-it tickets are at risk of having their license suspended. The sheriff's office cites a New Jersey study that found 42 percent of people whose licenses were suspended lost their jobs, and 45 percent of those who lost their jobs could not find another one.
“Programs like Lights On! are a win for everyone,” said Hennepin County Sheriff David P. Hutchinson in a Wednesday news release. “These vouchers lead to safer cars on the road and better interactions between law enforcement officers and the public. Most importantly, by avoiding tickets, we’re preventing a ripple effect that can seriously affect the financial stability of low-income individuals.”
More information, along with a list of participating mechanics, can be found at lightsonus.org.
Watch below or click here: Lights On! begins in Columbia Heights in 2017