Chattanooga PD introduces program replacing some traffic citations with repair vouchers

A new program in Chattanooga is aimed at helping reduce financial burdens for low-income communities and improve relationships among police.

The Lights On!program helps drivers fix broken lights on their cars for free.

According to data from Chattanooga's Open Data Portal, African Americans in Chattanooga are cited for economic violations like financial responsibility, auto registration and light violations more than any other demographic.

It's something Don Samuels, founder of MicroGrants, said happens in communities across the country.

"Sometimes it's a choice between groceries and fixing that light and we know which one people are going to take," Samuels added.

The numbers led to a new partnership with the Chattanooga Police Department and the Lights On! program.

Under the program, officers on traffic stops can give drivers a voucher for a free light repair, up to $250, rather than citing the driver.

"It's a way for our officers to engage with drivers, assisting with the source of the violation and help our members of the community bring their vehicle back in compliance and hopefully avoid any further financial strain that that individual may be in," Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy said.

The vouchers can be used at these six auto shops that are part of the program:

Lights On! was created in Minneapolis in 2017 after Philando Castile's death and is currently used in 90 percent of communities in Minnesota. This is the program's first national expansion into the state of Tennessee.

"Our service providers in Minneapolis have claimed up to 14 percent in their business just from the returns of people coming back to the same provider for their regular service," Samuels said.

The Chattanooga Police Department used $9,000 from automatic traffic enforcement citations to bring the program to Chattanooga.

The vouchers are supported by community in-kind and financial donations.

"So in essence, you have the fines paid by other unsafe drivers going to fix the lights of other drivers," Roddy said.

Overall, the program about improving relationships among police and disproportionate communities.

"With the current climate that's going on from a national and municipal level, this is the thing that's needed. It's another tool for their belt. It's not a be-all answer but it's a big tool for their belt. It helps," Sherman Patterson with Lights On! said.

The vouchers will be given out at the officer's discretion and training on the vouchers started within the police department on Wednesday.