Many drivers in the East Aldine area will get vouchers – rather than traffic tickets – if they are stopped for non-functioning vehicle lights.

The switch from a costly citation to a money-saving certificate worth up to $250 is part of a new $50,000 pilot program for Harris County that goes into action starting Monday, Nov. 20.

Program funds come from a grant from the Minnesota-based, a non-profit organization with a mission to help drivers who might not be able to afford vehicle lights right away.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez decided the funds will first go to deputies who work for the East Aldine Management District.

The District employs 21 Sheriff’s Office officers to patrol the 20-square mile area northeast of downtown Houston in unincorporated Harris County: 17 deputies, plus supervisors. They respond to emergencies in other parts of the county when necessary.


“Instead of receiving a citation, the deputies will be giving you a voucher to get your lights fixed. It could be a headlight, a taillight, a blinker, or a license plate,” Lt. Mike Santos said. “It builds a better bond with the community, and it helps people get their lives back on track.”

“Most encounters with police are negative,” Santos said, admitting, “Even I get nervous when I get pulled over.”

“Nine out of 10 times when we pull a driver over for a vehicle light violation, they’re not even aware of it,” Santos added, The program, coming right before the holidays, will build “good will” in the community, he said.

Many residents of the East Aldine area are struggling to make ends meet and might not be able to afford the light repairs otherwise, Santos pointed out.

“Another good thing about this program is that if we come across folks who need (child) car seats, we will be able to refer them to the District,” Santos said. The District provides free child car safety seats to area motorists, even instructing and helping residents with installation. was established after the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile, a resident of a Minneapolis suburb who was killed by a police officer after being stopped for a broken taillight. Castile was legally carrying a handgun at the time. The police officer was fired by acquitted of criminal charges.

The case inspired Don Samuels, former public safety chair of the Minneapolis City Council, to create Lights On.  Since then, the organization has provided grants to several cities nationwide.

“Because Harris County is the third largest county in the nation, they decided to give us the grant,” Santos said.

Santos said Houston jeweler Franco Valobra, a longtime supporter of the Sheriff’s Office, donated to Samuels’ charitable foundation, Microgrants, Inc.

Microgrants’ slogan is “Powering with People of Potential.” Its mission “is to give a boost to motivated people on their journey to economic self-sufficiency. By providing cash, not loans, we meet the immediate needs of low-income individuals on their quest to start a business, finish their education, or acquire transportation for their job.”

The vouchers, for up to $250 in repairs, may be especially helpful for light replacements for newer cars; they are designed in a way that the entire lighting fixture may need to be replaced, Santos said. He noted that his step-daughter recently had to pay “about $300” to replace a burnt-out light in her newer model vehicle.

“That’s a lot of money right before the holiday season,” Santos said.

The vouchers will include the names and locations of four authorized shops that will perform the light replacements. Two are located within the East Aldine Management District, one is in downtown Houston, and the fourth is just east of downtown, Santos said.

— by Anne Marie Kilday