Since the New England Patriots teamed up with the New Bedford Police Department to launch the Lights On! program in December, Officer Tyler Vieira has seen how well it's been received first-hand.
Instead of pulling a car over and writing a citation for a burned-out taillight or headlight, officers have been able to surprise the driver with a voucher to repair the issue for free. The initiative sets out to create positive experiences, and thus, strengthen the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.
The program offered a new twist on Wednesday, with Patriots running back James White accompanying Vieira on a ride-along to hand out vouchers.
"We've been doing (the program) for several months already, and I'll tell you what, I've given out more than 20 since we got involved with this program and it puts a lot of smiles on people's faces," Vieria said.
"I've had people cry to me on traffic stops, you know, saying that I helped them out so much. Single mothers, single fathers, it's definitely beneficial to not only the public but to us as well. It builds a good relationship."
White, who grew up with two parents in law enforcement, knows how important that connection with the community is – especially in recent years.
"I think that's what's most important, especially during these times," White said. "Building that relationship with the community so everybody feels somewhat comfortable when they interact with you guys."
Vieira certainly embodies that goal.
He's been on the force for three years and is just 26 years old, but his life experience to this point has poised him perfectly to be that bridge between the police and the community.
The ride-along began with Viera showing White the neighborhood he grew up in. For every street corner surrounding the Temple Landing Housing Development in the city's west end, he has a story about violence that took place there. While driving by a basketball court adjacent to the complex, Vieira acknowledged a makeshift memorial set up after the murder of Mateo Morales, a teenager who was fatally stabbed in 2016.
"I was actually outside when this one happened; this was a little 14-year-old kid who got stabbed behind my house," Vieira said, right before stopping to greet three maintenance workers by name.
"It wasn't the best area. Surrounded by violence. I grew up with a single mother raising three children all on her own in a war zone. Things were tough out there. But you know what, what has me here now is pain struggle, loneliness -- all that stuff made me a better man. And I bring my past experiences with me on this job, and it helps me out so much. It gives me an advantage that not many officers have."
After White learned more about Vieira's story, he commended the officer for his desire to effect real change in his hometown.
"That's really cool," White told Vieira. "That's also important too, for people in the community to get into the police department. People see familiar faces and I think that definitely helps.
"There's got to be more people like yourself in departments, for sure."
White's father, Tyrone White, served as captain of the Miami-Dade Police Department until an off-duty car accident took his life in 2020. His mother, Lisa, is a retired probation specialist.
The two men also found common ground in discussing their young children, long-term plans to move to Florida and the ways they try to not take their work home with them. White shared that his father worked in a sex trafficking unit, something Vieira hopes to get into down the road in his career.
"My dad always preached to me and my brother that to whom much is given much is required," White said. "He said if I ever made it and got an opportunity to take care of my family to make sure I take care of other people as much as possible."
About 10 minutes into the ride, an older Honda Accord with a broken taillight drove by at a four-way intersection and Vieira turned on the blue lights. The officer approached the car to first feel out the situation, and he came back to report the young male driver was less than thrilled to be stopped for an issue with his lights.
That changed once Vieira summoned for White, wearing his football jersey, to deliver the voucher. The interaction ended with smiles and handshakes.
"A lot of times those traffic stops are not positive outcomes," said New Bedford Chief of Police Paul Oliveira, who wrote a letter to Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft to request help from the Patriots and Revolution to bring the Lights On! program to New England. Oliveira saw a commercial for it during a Monday Night Football game and received an immediate response.
"A lot of times when people have their light out it is because they can't afford to fix it. So, what are we doing by giving them a ticket? We're just giving them a further burden. Here's the ticket, plus now you have to get the light fixed. So, $35 ticket, they don't pay the ticket, you get a warrant. So, this program really allows us to not have to cite anything. No. Instead, here, you go get it fixed."
Thanks to some light rain, the next traffic stop didn't take long.
The woman driving the second car Vieira and White pulled over couldn't believe her luck -- that not only was she avoiding an annoying ticket, but a Patriots player was helping her fix the issue.
After the encounter, when the ride-along was finished, White went back to the station to meet with employees of the department. There, a dispatcher made the running back aware of a call she received from the woman in the second car.
Despite being pulled over just 30 minutes before, she was hoping to voluntarily return to the police station to thank White and Viera for the experience. She also hoped to grab a photo with White after some initial shock caused her to miss the opportunity during the traffic stop.
Certainly, the New Bedford Police and the Patriots made for at least two positive encounters that day.
Learn more about the Lights On! program here.