GREAT FALLS — The Cascade County Sheriff’s Office says that deputies pull people over every day for things like broken headlights. Now, they’re working to help people get their vehicle fixed and working again - without a ticket.
LightsOn is a program that started in Minnesota and has now teamed up with the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office.
During a news conference on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, program director Sherman Patterson joined with Sheriff Jesse Slaughter to introduce the program.
Patterson explained, “We replace tickets with the vouchers. Instead of a law enforcement officer giving out a ticket and stopping someone with a blown headlight, turn signal, or tail light, they’re giving out this voucher. We don’t want people to be anxious or things getting escalated. It’s a de-escalation and they’re helping someone from a socioeconomic standpoint. It’s that dialogue of us, of law enforcement, and the community not talking at each other, but with each other.”
Sheriff Slaughter said they got a grant of $1,400 which was matched by LightsOn. The money was obtained from drug forfeiture funds - not taxpayers.
Vouchers are good for up to $250 in repairs and are designed to lend a helping hand and to create more positive engagement with the community.
“With City Motors and Bison Ford on board, this is also an opportunity for us to also bring people into our local businesses,” Slaughter said. “We see it every day where someone has a broken headlight or something similar. We have the ability to reach out to members of our community who might be under hard times, might be under stress, might be under financial stress with everything that’s going on and have some type of positive interaction with them.”
Vouchers must be used within 14 days of receipt. You can visit City Motor Company or Bison Ford if you are pulled over and given a voucher.
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From the LightsOn website:
Who pays for it? Lights On! is not a government program. MicroGrants, a Minneapolis nonprofit, raises money from individuals and foundations to pay for the Lights On! program in Minnesota.
What does Lights On!/MicroGrants gain from this program? 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.
How did Lights On! get started?After the tragic death of Philando Castile, the MicroGrants Board of Directors discussed ways that they could prevent such a terrible event from happening again. MicroGrants already had connections to low-income drivers, auto repair shops, and law enforcement. MicroGrants CEO Don Samuels, former Public Safety Chair of the Minneapolis City Council, called a number of police departments to ask whether they were interested in joining the program. Since then, the program has grown dramatically as our story has spread. Lights On! continues to grow rapidly as interested law enforcement agencies, auto shops, cities, and nonprofits contact MicroGrants and ask to join.
If I’m neither a police officer nor an auto shop owner, how can I help?If you can, please donate! Lights On! partners with auto service providers who fix car lights for Lights On! at a deep discount, but the program still has expenses. Whether or not you can donate, spread the word, on social media and otherwise! Crowdfunded programs like Lights On! thrive when lots of people know about them.
Why is Lights On! important?If someone gets a couple of tickets for having a headlight out and can’t pay for the ticket, most states allow that person’s driver’s license to be suspended. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, over seven million Americans may have lost their licenses due to traffic debt. A New Jersey study found that 42% of people whose licenses were suspended lost their jobs, and 45% of those who lost their jobs could not find new jobs. A ticket for having a headlight out, while inconsequential to some, starts a devastating downward spiral for others. It’s in the community’s interest to have a safe road with all of the cars’ lights in working order, but that shouldn’t be the reason why some low-income drivers lose their jobs or homes. They need and deserve help repairing their lights so they can get back on the road safely.