Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

County Police Use 'Pantry Tickets' to Turn Minor Violators into Friends

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

County Police Use 'Pantry Tickets' to Turn Minor Violators into Friends

Article excerpt

St. Louis County * St. Louis County police Officer Paul Gordon watched a driver roll through a stop sign, switched on his warning lights and pulled over her blue Jeep.

"Doctor's appointment, she's late," Gordon soon told a reporter riding along with him. A license check found that Toni Albrecht had no arrest warrants nor history of traffic violations. So the officer pulled out a printed paper card and declared: "Let's see if we can make a friend here today."

Albrecht appeared dumbfounded to see that instead of a ticket, she received a warning note displaying a police emblem and the addresses of two food pantries. The text suggested a donation to one of the pantries, or some other charity of her choosing, with no obligation.

"I think it's a good way to pay it forward," Albrecht said.

She is one of hundreds of south St. Louis County drivers since June 26 to receive a "pantry ticket" or "courtesy card," as officers call it, for minor violations in the Affton Precinct. Officials say they are issued only to drivers who would get just a warning anyway, and that they are not tracked. Police have no idea whether a donation is made.

Chief Jon Belmar said he wants to spread the initiative countywide, as a way to improve strained relations with police.

The fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson officer a year ago, and the sometimes-violent protests that followed, focused attention on tension between the police and public. The Justice Department issued a scathing criticism of many St. Louis County municipalities whose finances depend heavily upon their own police forces to produce traffic fine revenue.

The county police have been critical of that practice, and Belmar sees the food pantry warning cards as a way to underscore that and to soften the perception of officers.

"There has been an inordinate amount of attention being paid to traffic tickets being issued for the wrong reasons," Belmar said. "This is a nice community engagement piece and I want to move on this with all due haste."

County police Capt. Christopher Stocker addressed the same issue in a note explaining the concept to officers under his command. …

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