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Now police can help and not just write a ticket

So you’re motoring along, minding your own business, obeying the speed limits and up come flashing lights behind you. Unbeknown to you, one of your brake lights is out. Under normal circumstances, that could net you a $128 ticket. Then there’s the repair cost, which can range from negligible to significant. Take it to a shop and it could be upward of $75, depending on the make and the reason for the malfunction.

But if you’re stopped in any of 15 Twin Cities jurisdictions, you just might get a voucher that will cover those costs. In an innovative and welcome program, a nonprofit called MicroGrants is partnering with local police departments and a local auto service chain, Bobby and Steve’s Auto World, which has agreed to redeem the vouchers and make repairs.

Beyond the basic goal of getting lights fixed, the program gives police officers a much-needed opportunity to provide a friendly assist to drivers who may be dreading the encounter. And, to be clear, this program costs taxpayers nothing. It is a melding of public interest and private beneficence that can help with disruptions and costs that are annoyances for those with ample resources, but that can be a big setback for those just getting by.

Are drivers responsible for keeping their vehicles in working order? Of course. And the voucher — along with the citation itself — is at the officer’s discretion. Grant funds are limited, and officers will want to stretch them as far as possible. But St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said the “Lights On” program offers “a wonderful opportunity” for positive interaction. “Look, if you can afford that cost, we can use that voucher for someone else,” he said, “but if you can’t, the officer can help you out and that’s a win-win. A lot of our families are struggling financially.” At a time when police-community relations have hit several lows, that is a benefit.

Police departments taking part are: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Crystal, Edina, Maplewood, Mounds View, Richfield, Robbinsdale, Roseville, Spring Lake Park, St. Louis Park and West St. Paul. The Star Tribune Editorial Board commends all involved for a creative, public-private partnership that helps motorists without tapping taxpayers.

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