Salem drivers with broken car equipment will now get a coupon, not a citation, from police

(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem drivers who get pulled over with a busted tail light will now get a discount voucher to fix the problem in lieu of a ticket.

The Salem Police Department announced this week officers will start issuing 20% off vouchers for equipment-related infractions such as lighting, rearview mirrors, windshield wipers, fenders or mudguards.

Salem police Chief Trevor Womack said at a Monday Salem City Council meeting that his agency will prioritize serious moving violations which cause crashes and injuries, such as running red lights and speeding, and away from equipment violations. 

“Those can of course create safety concerns too. Lighting on your vehicle, windshield cracks, things like that can create safety conditions that are important to be fixed,” he said at the meeting. “But instead of a citation, we now have a program in place where we can give folks, give drivers voucher for discounts at participating auto shops to help make those repairs in a more affordable way instead of giving out a citation.”

The idea came out of conversations between Chief Trevor Womack and Dr. Reginald Richardson, president of the Salem-Keizer NAACP, about improving traffic safety by focusing less on minor equipment violations and more on understanding and trust.

“Anytime there’s a traffic stop, it’s a dangerous experience for both the officer and the person being stopped, and we have heard around the country the number of African Americans particularly who had been injured because of police stops. And so we wanted to change the narrative,” Richardson said. “ It’s a much more positive experience to let people know that you’ve got a taillight out or whatever it might be, and here’s a voucher to be able to get it as opposed to a ticket, a negative interaction that then can quickly escalate into a loss of life.”

The vouchers, redeemable at some local auto parts stores, will come through a statewide program started by the Oregon State Police in 2016 and extended to other agencies three years later.

But in Salem, they’re the product of a renewed working relationship between the city’s top cop and one of its civil rights leaders. 

After the police department announced its three-year strategic plan last fall, Richardson in October 2021 told Salem Reporter the idea came at a low point for public trust in Salem area law enforcement, particularly among people of color. 

Richardson said at the time he was doubtful after a meeting with Womack that the chief intended to engage the community or could impartially review the work of his department, adding that his organization was “done” with Womack.

“We were definitely not on the same page,” Richardson said Thursday.

Womack reached out to him about six months ago, and the two started meeting for coffee at the crack of dawn. Richardson said they’ve met around five times.

“We had several sit downs and got to know each other and developed a relationship. And then we were able to start working on projects together, and this was one of the first ones that we said that we could agree on and we needed to do,” Richardson said. “It’s hard to advocate for the kind of change that we need to make with policing in general when advocates and the police are unable to talk and things have deteriorated to that point, but we have been able to bring it back.”

Richardson said they had trouble raising the money needed for officers to give vouchers to those they stop. Eventually, Womack learned that was already an option through the Oregon Car Care Program. 

The Oregon Association Chiefs of Police took over the program in 2019 and found merchants willing to give discounts, said Angela Hedrick, Salem police spokeswoman.

The list of stores is viewable through a QR code on the vouchers which drivers can scan with their phone, go to a website and choose one. 

The merchants include Advance Auto Parts, Carquest and Napa Auto.

The announcement comes nearly four months after the state Legislature passed SB 1510, which prevented officers from pulling drivers over for one non-working light.

Richardson said his meetings with Womack have opened up broader discussions about policing, including members of the local NAACP branch having a chance to review policies related to officer body-worn-cameras.

“I have to say, the chief has an agenda for reform, I believe, and I believe that’s what’s in his heart,” he said. “We can sort of see that beginning to happen, so we can align our positions pretty easily in that regard.”

He also said his organization supports bringing more officers into the Salem Police Department to improve community policing.

“We want cops out of the squad cars and on the streets talking to people, but when you are chasing 911 calls, that doesn’t really allow you to do that. So we’ve talked about the need to have those kinds of relationships,” he said. 

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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