MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Police officers in Minneapolis are being given the option to hand out repair vouchers, rather than tickets, to motorists with minor vehicle defects in a policy change aimed in part at easing racial disparities in traffic stops.
Chief Medaria Arradondo announced the policy change Wednesday, the Star Tribune reported.
Officers can issue drivers a voucher from the Lights On! program financed by the nonprofit group MicroGrants, an organization that partners with local organizations to promote economic self-sufficiency among lower-income residents. The vouchers can be redeemed at participating auto shops for such things as replacing a bulb in a broken taillight.
The new guidelines include exceptions in which equipment violations result in a crash or harm to another individual. Motorists with outstanding warrants or who have committed another crime can still be arrested after being pulled over.
The changes comes almost a year after a community forum, in which residents aired their frustrations over what they saw as years of harassment and discrimination at the hands of police. A City Hall debate about temporarily prohibiting certain traffic stops followed, with some council members viewing the move as a way to ease the racial disparities in traffic stop rates. But others worried that it would only harm residents in poorer neighborhoods, where gun violence is prevalent.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights activist, called the change a step in the right direction toward reversing age-old racial disparities.
“Ultimately, we want police officers to be problem-solvers and not gateways into the justice system for poor people of color,” Levy Armstrong said.
She said for people struggling to make ends meet, even the cost of fixing a broken taillight can be a significant financial burden, and a ticket can send them “deeper into the criminal justice system.”
But Pete Gamades, a community organizer, didn’t think the changes are enough.
“How does that reduce the racial disparities in the stops to begin with, and I don’t see that this policy change does that,” Gamades said. “One of our goals was to eliminate the stops completely, and potentially mail a coupon to the owner of the car, and hence remove that interaction with the cop that could not end well for either side.”
More than half of motorists stopped citywide for equipment violations were black, according to a 2018 Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office report. The study found that in north Minneapolis, where neighborhoods are ethnically diverse, 80% of drivers pulled over were black and 12% were white.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office also announced this week that it is joining the voucher program.