The Traffic Education Program (TEP) offered by the Grand Rapids Police Department which allows those who have been issued a traffic citation to take an online class and have the citation dismissed is continuing without changes.

Nowhere has Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto said driver education programs are illegal, said Grand Rapids City Attorney Chad Sterle in response to media reports out of the Twin Cities last week which reported the auditor said the programs were illegal.

She stated there were no specific statutes addressing the programs, he added.

The state auditor’s office released a 200-page special review of administrative citations and traffic diversion classes on Nov. 15. In the report’s executive summary, it stated that “the use of traffic diversion programs by both cities and counties is growing, especially in the cities.” It also stated that the total amount of fees collected by local governments for traffic diversion programs from 2010 to 2012, approximately $1.6 million, exceeded the total amount in fines collected by local governments for administrative traffic citations, approximately $1.1 million, during the same time period.

“Traffic diversion programs present a patchwork of traffic enforcement practices by local governments,” the summary stated. “Whether local governments should be granted the authority to operate local traffic diversion programs is a question for the (state) Legislature.”

Sterle explained that Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure allow for diversionary programs.

They’ve been around for more than 40 years, he said of diversion programs. Itasca County has a shoplifting diversion program, a program addressing juvenile drinking and the Itasca County Wellness Court.

The reason diversionary programs are in place is to educate, said Sterle.

“What we hope to do is education (the participants) to drive in a safer manner,” he said.

The state auditor’s executive summary gave a list of recommendations that the Legislature should consider if lawmakers decide to address traffic diversion programs: The integrity of Minnesota driving records; the risk of losing federal highway aid and grant funds; the merits of uniformity in traffic enforcement; a statewide database for local traffic diversion programs; monitoring the use, scope and effectiveness of local traffic diversion programs; standards for local traffic diversion programs; fee and surcharge requirements applicable to local traffic diversion programs; contracting authority for the use of third-party vendors for local traffic diversion programs; and the data practice status of driver data collected during the operation of local traffic diversion programs.

TEP has been in place in Grand Rapids since January 2013. According to Grand Rapids Police Chief Jim Denny, 1,514 traffic tickets have been issued since the beginning of the year and of those eligible to participate, 479 chose to go through the program.

“We believe our program is beneficial,” said Denny, who said that so far there have not been any repeat offenders from TEP. “I think it’s working. The program cuts down on court time and saves money.”

Eligibility for the program is in part determined by the offender’s driving record and the level of offense. According to the TEP brochure from the police department, eligible violations may include equipment, moving, ordinance, parking, status or other violations. TEP may be used twice in a 12-month period to have a citation dismissed and not have the citation appear on the offender’s record. The fee for TEP, which mandates participating in an online class and completing a test afterwards, is dependent on the number of offenses on one citation. Drivers holding a Class A license are automatically ineligible for TEP. Participation in TEP is completely voluntary. Once the city prosecutor has been notified the participant has successfully completed the test, the citation is dismissed.

The brochure stated that TEP is managed by IVS of Red Wing, Minn.

“We are doing a service by helping change behavior,” said Denny. “By offering education, we’re making our community a safer place.”

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