SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A new initiative is coming to Springfield that will allow police officers to hand out vouchers to drivers who need help with minor car repairs.
Recent data from the Springfield Police Department shows black drivers are stopped about 19 times more for equipment violations than white drivers.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said it’s a poverty issue. Thanks to the initiative, those who can’t afford to get their car fixed won’t automatically get a ticket for something like a headlight or brake light out.
“It’s going to be a community-driven, no pun intended, a community-run program, but the police department is going to hand out the vouchers instead of tickets,” said Williams.
The Missouri Bar Association has taken the lead on creating a voucher program to address equipment violations for low-income and minority drivers.
“So two-fold: One, build that trust and that good will,” said Williams. “And two, get that problem fixed so they’re not worried about getting stopped for their headlight out when they are trying to get to their second job and can’t afford to pay for it in the first place.”
The Local NAACP and Grupo Latinoamericano are also working to help in this situation.
“Sometimes it’s not negligence, but it’s that either they didn’t really realize, or they don’t have the money,” said Yolanda Lorge, president of Grupo Latinoamericano.
Lorge said those who receive vouchers would redeem them at individual auto shops in Springfield to get free equipment.
“This not only avoids that trip to court but also gets you into a better relationship with law enforcement,” said Lorge. “Not only to not be afraid of law enforcement but to be someone you can call on when you have a problem.”
City Councilman Matthew Simpson said it’s a first step to cutting down unnecessary fines, court dates and more.
“The steps that we’re taking to address the causes of issues and not just the symptoms, I think those are critical across the board,” said Simpson.
The final proposal for the voucher initiative is expected to come in the next couple of months. Chief Williams said the Police Department has committed to providing $5,000 to get the program started.