Rochester, MN (KROC AM News) – Rochester has become the first city in the state outside of the Twin Cities to join a unique program that was started two years ago as a way to build goodwill between police departments and their communities.

The program is called Lights On! and is funded in part by MicroGrants.

Under the program, officers who stop a motorist for driving with a burned-out headlight, taillight, brake light or turn signal give the person a voucher to have it repaired free of charge - instead of a ticket. Two of those involved in the program were in Rochester Thursday and joined RPD Chief Jim Franklin in launching the initiative in the city.

Watch a video of the news conference in the player above.

A recent edition of the magazine Minnesota Police Chief included this excerpt:

“A broken taillight or turn signal can mean choosing between a minor auto repair and buying groceries for the family. It can also spark a downward economic spiral that for some yields multiple tickets, confrontations with law enforcement, and even vehicle impoundment.

How does Lights On! help? Police officers hand out vouchers to drivers with burned-out headlights, taillights, brake lights, or turn signals. The recipients can then redeem those vouchers for free repairs at any participating auto service provider. This solution has the potential to disrupt the downward spiral

“‘You might not be able to fix that light. Or, what do you have to sacrifice to fix that light? Poor people are making decisions like that every day,’ says Don Samuels, who founded the Lights On! program after the Philando Castile incident. ‘Do I pay the rent or do I buy food? This kind of expense—unexpected, one that’s not been budgeted for—it could be critical for someone.’ . . .

“In 2017, MicroGrants kicked off Lights On! where it all began, in Columbia Heights. 16 agencies, including St. Paul, Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park were represented. Between April and December of 2017, Twin Cities cops handed out more than 400 vouchers. The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has just requested 500 more vouchers for its patrol officers. . .

“‘The beauty of this program is everyone, from police officers to drivers to community leaders, can get behind this effort in your community,’ said Lights On! Program Director Sherman Patterson. ‘We can all relate to being pulled over. Each voucher has the potential to turn a lose-lose situation—the traffic stop—into a win-win where we’re helping low-income drivers and changing how officers are viewed.”

News update: Temperatures dipped into the 20s in northeastern Minnesota Thursday morning.