by Tom Burch

Cass County Sheriff

This month I would like to introduce you to a new initiative that the Cass County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with called “Lights On!” This program concept involves a common equipment violation contact, such as a broken taillight or turn signal that can often mean choosing between a minor auto repair and buying groceries for the family. It can also spark a downward economic spiral that for some includes multiple tickets, confrontations with law enforcement and even vehicle impoundment.

To help ease this scenario, the Lights On! Program allows officers to hand out voucher “tickets” to drivers with burnt-out headlights, taillights, brake lights or turn signals. The recipients can then redeem those vouchers for free repairs at any participating auto service provider.

This solution has the potential to disrupt the downward spiral and build goodwill and positive communications between law enforcement agencies and the communities and individuals they serve.

Lights On! is not a government-funded program. MicroGrants, a Minneapolis nonprofit, raises money from individuals and foundations to pay for the Lights On! program. MicroGrants is a Minnesota nonprofit that works with partner agencies to promote and support economic self-sufficiency through strategic grants to low-income people of potential.

MicroGrants has, at its core, a desire to help low-income people break the cycle of poverty. Lights On! shares this goal and also aims to improve police-community relations and public safety.

As a nonprofit, MicroGrants is driven by mission, not profit; as a program of MicroGrants, Lights On! functions the same way. Started in the metro, we are hoping that by partnering with this program it will start the expansion to northern Minnesota and outstate as well. (https://www.lightsonus.org)

Lights On! and several law enforcement agencies have identified several benefits to this program including:

• Safer cars on the roadway: Fixing car lights that would otherwise remain broken is good for everyone.

• A positive path for low income drivers: By preventing tickets, this program has the potential to stop the downward spiral affecting employment and financial stability.

• Improved avenues for increased community policing and relations: vouchers allow officers to engage positively with motorists to offer solutions rather than create additional problems.

• Less police officer stress: Officers know that this traffic stop will be positive, rather than confrontational.

• New and creative approaches to problems: Instead of punishing drivers for having broken lights, we can fix the bulbs and work toward strengthening the community and creating safer roadways.

• Better prioritized community resources: Police and courts spend fewer resources dealing with small violations and are freed to deal with bigger issues.

By partnering with and utilizing this program, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office continues it commitment to serving the citizens that we serve through unique opportunities while strengthening and expanding our relationships and helping utilize creative ways to solve problems that we encounter.

While this program is in its initial phase, watch for more information coming in the near future and if you have questions about it feel free to contact us.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, contact me anytime: e-mail tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; call (218) 547-1424  or (800) 450-2677; or mail Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484

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