ST. PAUL — A program designed to help improve the lives of low-income residents — and transform how law-enforcement officers interact with them — has expanded to the Washington County sheriff’s office.
Instead of issuing a warning when pulling someone over for a broken headlight or taillight, deputies in Washington County are now authorized to give motorists a Lights On! voucher that is good for up to $250 worth of repair work at a local auto shop.
“It’s a great way to build our community and help those who cannot afford to replace those lights,” said Sheriff Dan Starry. “We’re here to protect and serve and this is certainly part of our service to our citizens.”
The Lights On! program was started in 2017, a year after Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer after being pulled over for a broken brake light, said Don Samuels, CEO of MicroGrants, which funds the program.
“It’s a small thing, but if a lesson is combined with a deep emotion, you never forget it, right?” Samuels said Wednesday.
Officers from local, county and state law-enforcement agencies have issued more than 1,300 Lights On! vouchers since April 2017, he said. Participating departments range from Minneapolis to Cottage Grove, which launched the program in October and has issued 19 vouchers.
“The officers have had great responses, and it’s been a good way to help people out,” said Cottage Grove Police Chief Pete Koerner.
Most repairs cost an average of $43, but motorists can have up to $250 worth of work done “if it’s a wiring problem or mounting problem,” Samuels said. “We don’t do body work.”
The Lights On! vouchers give officers a chance to “to do something that’s helpful, that’s not punitive,” Samuels said. “You give them a gun, you give them a Taser, you give them a stack of tickets — those are the tools they are going to use because those are the tools they have. But if you give them something else, a positive tool … that can give somebody relief, it just changes their job.”
Three repair shops — Lucky Dog Garage in Lakeland; TGK Automotive in Hugo and Mastertech Auto in Newport — will accept the Lights On! vouchers in Washington County.
“We wanted one on the north end, the south end and in the middle of the county because it doesn’t do anyone any good if the repair shop is on the south side of Washington County, and you’re from the north,” Starry said.
Billy Kaye, owner of Lucky Dog Garage, said he and his employees were happy to be asked to participate.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to do something that is supportive of the community, we’re going to try and do that,” he said. “It’s a great program.”
More information on the Lights On! program and ways to donate can be found online at lightsonus.org.w