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St. Charles police to hand out vouchers instead of tickets for minor vehicle problems

The CEO of nonprofit MicroGrants said the death of Philando Castile prompted him to come up with ways to improve police and community relations.

ST CHARLES, Mo. — The fallout from a fatal police encounter involving a St. Louis native is now about to hit the streets of St. Charles.

Philando Castile, 32, was shot to death by a police officer on July 6, 2016, during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. The officer who shot him was convicted of manslaughter.

One of the details about Castile’s life that stuck in Don Samuels’ mind was how Castile had been stopped by police for minor traffic and equipment violations dozens of times – the majority of which were dismissed, said Sherman Patterson Jr.

Patterson is now the Vice-President of a program called Lights On, which Samuels launched as the CEO of a nonprofit called MicroGrants.

It partners with auto body shops in Minnesota to cover the cost of repairs for minor electrical issues up to $250 such as broken tail lights or headlights.

Lights On is now in 15 states, including Missouri. St. Charles police will become the first department to start handing out vouchers within weeks.

“The ‘wow effect’ happens, the anxiety comes down from the officer and the driver and people are talking with each other not at each other,” Patterson Jr. said. “At the same time, it addresses the socioeconomic status issues.

“How many times are police stopping people who can’t pay that ticket? We are here to help to bring that conversation back between law enforcement and the community. That word ‘trust’ and ‘communication,’ those are two critical words. We can’t do one without the other. We can’t de-fund the police, we need them and they need us. Lights On is simple, transparent and you’re changing lives because one voucher makes a big difference in someone’s life.”

Patterson Jr. estimates the nonprofit has redeemed more than 7,000 vouchers since forming in 2017. There are 134 police departments participating in the program along with 287 auto body shops across the country, he said.

St. Charles Capt. Ray Floyd read an article about the program from the International Association of Chiefs of Police magazine, and brought it to his chief.

“This program is designed to help people, we’re not giving these to people driving $50,000 cars,” Floyd said. “We had someone stop in asking for one because it will cost $200 to fix a light on their Maserati.

"That’s not what this is there for. It’s designed for individuals who are making it pay-day to pay-day and rather than get a citation for $50 or more on top of still having to fix the light, we’re able to get their vehicle back to meeting safety standards. This is a safety issue, we want vehicles to be safe.”

Floyd said Lights On is matching half of the $4,400 yearly cost to run the program, which is based on the city’s population of about 75,000 residents.

LTS Auto and Walmart donated enough money to keep the program running for at least two years, Floyd said.

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