Minn. police to hand out vouchers instead of citations for equipment violations

The Minneapolis police department will now issue vouchers from a nonprofit group that will pay for vehicle repairs like a broken taillight or turn signal

Libor Jany
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis police officers will no longer ticket motorists for broken headlights or turn signals, instead handing out vouchers to pay for vehicle repairs under a new department policy unveiled Wednesday.

The changes come roughly a year after a pitched debate at City Hall over a possible moratorium on certain traffic stops, with some council members seeing the move as a way to ease the racial disparities in rates of traffic stops. At the time, police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he would study the issue, and in the months since has been meeting with senior staffers, crime analysts and community leaders to hear their advice on what to do to revamp the policy without endangering public safety.

Under the new policy, instead of writing a ticket, officers will now have the option of issuing drivers a voucher from the Lights ON! program — financed by the nonprofit group MicroGrants, which partners with local organizations to promote economic self-sufficiency among lower income residents, according to its website. The vouchers can be redeemed at participating auto shops in the area to cover the costs of services such as replacing a bulb from a rear taillight.

Exceptions include cases in which equipment violations result in a crash or "harm to another," according to the new guidelines. Motorists with outstanding warrants or who have committed some other criminal act can still be arrested after being pulled over.

"All MPD employees conducting motor vehicle stops for equipment violations shall issue a Lights ON! Coupon in Lieu of traffic citations, when available and applicable," reads the new policy, which goes into effect on Saturday. "If a Coupon is issued, then the officer shall advise the driver or recipient of the location in which the repair can be made."

Minneapolis police are now in the company of other local law enforcement agencies, like the Hennepin County Sheriff's office, which also announced it was signing on to Lights On!

"Fixing minor issues such as a broken brake light can go a long way toward breaking the cycle of poverty — individuals who ignore a fix-it ticket are at risk of having their license suspended," the agency said in a news release.

Even before the new policy was announced, Minneapolis Police Department statistics showed that traffic stops for equipment violations dropped 27% last year, officials say.

Department officials said they hoped the changes would free up officers to spend time on more serious crime-fighting duties.

"It takes much longer to issue a citation then to give a coupon," the department tweeted Wednesday, in response to a question about the new policy.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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