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Program aims to turn police traffic stops into positive encounters

Have you ever been pulled over by police for having a headlight or a brake light out? In many communities across the country, police departments are opting to do something other than give a driver a ticket.
The vouchers from the 'Lights On!' program are worth up to $250. Participating police departments hand them out in lieu of giving out a ticket for a blown vehicle headlight or tail light.
The town of Louisa is the first community to participate in the 'Lights On!' program in Virginia. With more than 7,000 vouchers redeemed so far, the program can now be found in 141 police departments in more than a dozen states, including Florida, Maryland, Montana and Tennessee, with departments in more than a dozen other states also participating.
Posted at 11:14 AM, Nov 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-15 11:14:45-05

LOUISA, Va. — On the main thoroughfare through this rural town—appropriately called Main Street—something unique is rolling down the streets.

Welcome to Louisa, Virginia, which has a population of around 2,000 people.

"Really this is neighbors looking out for neighbors,” said Louisa Police Chief Craig Buckley, “and, as the police department, we should feel like their neighbors."

Part of that work comes down to a booklet of vouchers from the national Lights On! program. It's designed to turn a traffic stop for a broken vehicle light into something other than a ticket.

"The Lights On! program gives us the ability to issue a voucher to those folks, in lieu of a summons, and gives them an opportunity to go to one of our repair facilities that have signed on to assist us with the program and get the problem fixed," Chief Buckley said.

The program relies on a national grant from Lights On! and donations from businesses in town to help. Tracy Hale Clark is the executive director of the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce.

"Any time that the police can express that they really are trying to help people, that, to me, is a huge value. I think that there's been a trend of people are afraid of the police, especially if they get pulled over,” Hale Clark said. “A lot of people are struggling right now, financially."

The vouchers are worth up to $250, which may sound like a lot of money until you talk to those whose business is fixing cars.

"I had a lady literally paid $230 for a third brake light. It's a LED bulb that you had to replace the entire assembly,” said Nathan Wash, who owns Haymaker Auto Repair, one of the vehicle repair shops in Louisa participating in the program. “So, it could be anything from literally 79 cents for a little tag light bulb up to $200, $300 for a LED bulb."

Kenny Throckmorton, who owns Kenny’s Central Tire and Automotive, is also part of the program and says getting broken lights fixed comes down to safety.

"Signals, breaks, stuff like headlights, you know, when you don't have it, it could cause a hazard," he said.

With more than 7,000 vouchers redeemed so far, the program can now be found in 141 police departments in more than a dozen states, including Florida, Maryland, Montana and Tennessee, with departments in more than a dozen other states also participating. Louisa is the first community in Virginia to join the program.

The program began in Minnesota in 2017, a year after a fatal traffic stop there made national news.

"When Philando Castile, the individual who was who was stopped because of a blown headlight, unfortunately, that stop went south and he lost his life,” said Lights On! vice president Sherman Patterson. “So, we look at it from a three-pronged approach: it's outcome-oriented, it's a deliverable and then, it's that healing."

Tracy Hale Clark at the Chamber said she sees that as well.

"It really is a full-circle program,” she said. “It helps the community and it helps our businesses and it helps our citizens."

They are citizens whom Chief Buckley says he feels a responsibility towards.

"At times, we have to do enforcement, you know, and when that's needed, we will do it," he said.

He also sees the vouchers as a chance to build better police relations not just within the town, but also with the 38,000 people from the surrounding county who drive through Louisa.

"Over the years, there have been a lot of negative, negative attention," Chief Buckley said of the national news coverage of police-involved incidents. "I don't want anyone here in this community to ever feel like that, that they, that they have to be afraid of us fears in any way. I want them to lean on us."