by Cindy Gonzalez, Nebraska Examiner
July 16, 2022
When Philip Lukens was hired as police chief of Alliance less than two years ago, he brought an unconventional law enforcement approach to his new western Nebraska home of about 8,000.
Part of his tactics had patrol officers rewarding do-gooders with a free Blizzard at the local Dairy Queen and offering car part discounts to drivers with a broken headlight. He engages his own sworn troops in a motivational, community-building game of “Criminopoly.”
Now Lukens is taking his reward-trumps-penalty strategy a step further with a new tool created by a team including some retired Texas police officers who are at Alliance’s Heritage Days this week to help launch the product.
Not your typical traffic stop
Called Trusted Driver, the web-based platform uses technology that allows “contactless” communication between the participating police agency and registered drivers — without the officer ever initiating a traditional traffic stop.
Motorists receive warnings, citations and public safety alerts electronically, after a quick identity confirmation via their cell phone.
Designers tout the tool as a convenience and safety enhancer that eliminates the chance of a minor violation-related police encounter escalating out of control. But Lukens said his department will use it at first only as a means to deliver positive feedback and distribute prizes.
The goal is to cut back on crime by promoting good habits. He said drivers might even be able to use the police kudos they receive to angle for discounted insurance rates.
“We don’t want to be looked upon as enforcers but more as mentors,” said Lukens, offering the analogy of a parent who doesn’t wait around a corner for their child to do something wrong so they can dole out a consequence.
“A rewards-based system encourages a better response.”
‘Caught doing good’
With support and vouchers from the business community, Lukens said the Alliance Police Department will use Trusted Driver to build upon its “caught doing good” program, which offers an ice cream or other store coupons for people seen promoting safety.
Lukens, who came to Alliance from a police agency in Colorado, said the new system also can save time — a key benefit as the town’s 22 sworn officers are down to about 14 due in part to military deployment.
Though the Trusted Driver program was tested in a Texas community, Alliance is the company’s first official client, said president and CEO Val Garcia, a retired San Antonio police officer of nearly 30 years.
He said the company is discussing partnerships with several other jurisdictions and believes the program can transform community policing.
There’s no cost to drivers, who participate on a voluntary basis. Lukens said Alliance got a discounted deal and will pay under $5,000 to start the program.
We hope this changes policing in the future for traffic enforcement. – Philip Lukens, Alliance police chief
Garcia’s team staffed a signup booth at Heritage Days to promote registration and answer questions of residents. Lukens said he expects a good response. He said signing up allows drivers to create a profile with key information. For example, if a person is hearing impaired, the system could convey that to a police patrol.
Future for traffic enforcement
When an officer plugs a license plate into his or her computer databases, they’ll be flagged if the car is registered in the Trusted Driver program. The officer can send an alert to a motorist’s mounted cell phone, abiding by local transportation codes, to confirm the driver’s identity.
The Alliance driver could later receive a message offering praise about a particular action, perhaps even a voucher.
Garcia is impressed that the town is focused on giving rewards instead of tickets. He said his team felt it was important to include an option for a participating police agency to provide positive feedback to drivers.
“We hope this changes policing in the future for traffic enforcement,” Lukens said. He said there will always be traditional stops and enforcement for egregious violations, but he hopes to reduce some crime through positive reinforcement.
“Ultimately, in partnership with our community, we will reduce accidents,” Lukens said. “This always contributes to a safer Alliance.”