The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office launched a new program on Tuesday, Nov. 7, that will give vouchers rather than citations to drivers who are pulled over for a broken taillight, burned-out headlight or non-functioning flasher or brake light.
The Lights On! Program, a partnership between the sheriff's office and Lights On!, a national program under the MicroGrants nonprofit organization, is designed to ease the economic burden on low-income drivers who might not be able to afford to fix their vehicle's lights, improve road safety, and build trust between communities and law enforcement, Sheriff Christina Corpus said during a Nov. 7 press conference in Redwood City.
The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office is the first agency in the San Francisco Bay Area to partner with Lights On!
The vouchers are not available on-demand and are only available during a traffic stop; the deputy supplies the voucher at their own discretion. It covers up to $250 in repair costs at auto-repair shops that accept the vouchers. Light’s On! reimburses the auto shop for the repairs, she said. Currently, the program in San Mateo County works with two repair shops in Redwood City, one in Millbrae and one in Half Moon Bay, but more shops can participate if they contact her office, she said. Motorists who have received a voucher can also find a repair shop online at the Lights On! Website.
Veronica Escamez, founder of the nonprofit Casa Circulo Cultural in the unincorporated Fair Oaks area of Redwood City, said the program will help lift a chronic burden from the community.
"This is going to be a huge help. People are afraid if they are stopped they will have problems with immigration if they have a police citation. With the vouchers, they will for sure go and fix things and it will help their families. I think it's a very good thing to come from the sheriff's office to the community," she said.
Corpus said the program changes the routine traffic stop.
“The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office is committed to finding meaningful ways to have positive interactions with those we serve. Lights On! is an innovative approach to demonstrating compassion and understanding for those who may need assistance to fix a minor vehicle code violation. This program is a win for all – it creates safer streets and encourages positive relationships between law enforcement and the public,” she said.
Interest in this issue for Corpus goes back to when she was a deputy. During traffic stops, she often met drivers who had no money for repairs, or the choice was between getting the broken light fixed or paying for rent or other necessities, she said. Instead of writing a citation, she would try to get them to fix the problem.
When Corpus learned about Lights On! early this year, she was excited. The program offered a fix to a problem she had seen for years, she said. "I truly believe we can become part of the solution and not part of the problem."
Sherman Patterson, Lights On! vice president, said having to pay a citation and get a light fixed can create an economic burden for families needing to choose between a repair and buying groceries. It can also create a downward economic spiral, leading to multiple tickets, confrontations with law enforcement, and vehicle impoundment. The program aims to disrupt that spiral and build goodwill with law enforcement.
Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Lights On! is working with National Football League teams Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and San Diego Padres and corporations to fund the program. Nearly 11,000 motorists have redeemed vouchers in 21 states in six years. The program has 166 law-enforcement partners, he said.
Costs for the vouchers from the sheriff's office will initially come from the department's savings and from Lights On! Corpus said she plans to budget for the program annually.