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Bloomington police start voucher program to pay for burned-out car lights

MicroGrants CEO Don Samuels, left, and Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington talk following a news conference at the Bloomington Police Department.
Eric Stock
MicroGrants CEO Don Samuels, left, and Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington talk following a news conference at the Bloomington Police Department.

Starting in February, the Bloomington Police Department plans to replace tickets with repair vouchers for motorists who are pulled over for a burnt-out bulb.

It’s in partnership with a MicroGrants that helps fund the Lights On! Program, and Country Financial, which has contributed $6,000 to the effort.

Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington said the goal is to reduce the stress of traffic stops, one of the most dangerous parts of police work, for both officers and motorists, and create a positive experience for drivers that are pulled over.

“We understand a traffic stop is one of the most stressful interactions motorists and police officers experience, but traffic stops are essential for making our roadways and community safer,” Simington said during a Tuesday news conference at police headquarters.

Simington added Bloomington Police pulled over more than 11,000 drivers in 2022, and around 2,500 of those stops were for general equipment violations. That includes burned-out headlights, taillights, and turn signals. Only 2% of those drivers ended up getting citations for the violation, with most receiving a warning, Simington said.

MicroGrants is a Minnesota nonprofit that provides grants in an attempt to help people struggling with poverty. The organization also donated $6,000 and plans to provide additional funding to continue the program when the initial seed money runs out, according to MicroGrants CEO Don Samuels.

Samuels said the nonprofit has donated used cars to people who are starting a business or career and realized those vehicles were putting them at greater risk of being pulled over.

“Low-income people get stopped more frequently because they drive older cars and the lights go our more frequently,” Samuels said. “We give people older cars, so we were basically handing over problems to our grantees.”

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe quipped that he wished the program had started three weeks earlier, since a Bloomington police officer pulled him over when one of his vehicle lights had gone out.

“I’m fortunate enough that I’m in a position where I could take care of it the next day, but there are many other people who are not as fortunate as some of us are to be able to do that. I think this program will make a big difference,” Mwilambwe said.

Each voucher is worth up to $250 for parts and labor and can be redeemed at a local Walmart, AutoZone, or Advance Auto Parts locations.

Bloomington is the second city in Illinois to begin the program after the Chicago suburb of Romeoville.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.