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Stopped for a busted taillight? Instead of a ticket, Baton Rouge PD is helping drivers fix it

If a driver is pulled over for faulty equipment, then officers issue them a voucher good at specific service stations to redeem for up to $250 to get it fixed

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By Lauren Cheramie
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. — Christopher Csonka is the founding executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. A native Ohioan, Chris has worked in criminal justice for more than 20 years with the longest portion of that being at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office where his focus was jail administration. Chris has also worked in public safety at the county level focusing on justice improvement initiatives. Chris is a proud Navy veteran in which he served for 10 years.

The CJCC is made up of a diverse group of leaders who address and improve policies and procedures of the East Baton Rouge criminal justice system. The members of the CJCC use data and community input to guide conversations on how to best develop effective ways to administer an equitable justice system and advance public safety in East Baton Rouge Parish with the goals of creating novel and effective alternatives to incarceration, reducing racial and ethnic disparities within the justice system and maintaining the highest standards of public safety.

The council recently partnered with the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department to introduce Lights On!, a community-driven project that started in Minnesota.

How is CJCC involved with the Lights On! program?

We’re a part of a larger network of not only CJCCs that exist across the country, but we’re attached to part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, which has 60 jurisdictions that participate in it. We’re on many networks and many newsletters, and the Lights On! Program was mentioned. There was some research — we looked into it a little bit further, contacted them, and they said, “No, we’re not in Louisiana, but we’d love to be.”

We’re the official sponsor of it this year. We decided to partner with both BRPD and the sheriff’s office because they each have separate patrol districts. We put up a total of $9,450 for each agency, and then it was matched by Lights On!. For the size of our population, that should be good to take us through the first year of the program. That was private money, grant money, that we received. It wasn’t any state or local municipal money.

The goal is to keep it privately funded. There’s no cost to the police department to do this — that includes the printing of the vouchers and having connections to keep data, provide reports — all of it is included in that cost.

We’re the first in Louisiana to run this program. Once the data starts coming in and people see the good this program creates, I think other jurisdictions are going to want to jump on board, specifically in New Orleans or Lafayette.

How does the program work?

It’s an existing program that started in Minnesota — there was an incident there in which an officer shot somebody during a routine traffic stop. The thought came across, “What if we turn these traffic stops from this punitive disciplinary interaction into a supportive interaction where the police are actually helping people take care of issues rather than citing them for it?”

So the idea was, if somebody was being pulled over because they had faulty equipment, whether it be a taillight or a headlamp, rather than write them a ticket, issue them a voucher which would be good at specific service stations to redeem for up to $250 to get that taken care of. So they, one, don’t receive a ticket or a citation and two, receive something that gives them the ability to fix the issue where it doesn’t come at a cost to them.

We’ll have a website that the person can go to, and it’ll show them the participating auto centers. Then they can just select one of those. The vouchers will be printed in Spanish and English.

Which auto centers are participating?

We’re partnering with these businesses for the program:

— Brothers Auto Repair, 2701 Plank Road

— 360 Automotive Solutions, 1334 Florida Blvd.

— Main St. Car Care, 2131 Main Street

— Baker Texaco, 790 Main Street, Baker

— Edwards Auto Repair, 2763 Scenic Highway

— Simple Simon Tire & Car Care, 7777 Airline Highway

— Hogan’s Automotive, 5888 N. Foster

— Simple Simon Tire & Car Care, 12116 Airline Highway.

When will police begin using the vouchers?

The vouchers are actually en route. We should have the vouchers in hand, and hopefully they’ll start giving them out by the end of January.

I think once people find out that no government funds were used for this, that this is all private money, there’s really a win-win situation — there’s no downside to this. And the fact that it’s helping to create a better relationship between the police and the community is also a bonus.

What is your hope for the future of the program?

My hope is that it goes toward fixing the police and community relations — they’ve been strained as of late and not just here, nationally. And whatever happens across the country affects the community, police interactions locally. Whether it happened here or somewhere else, it still affects us. So I think this is just a small step to help repair that relationship and truly let the community know.

For more information about Lights On!, visit

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