A benefit for all
After a district court judge last month struck down a traffic ticket diversion program in Wabasha County, many cities and counties statewide opted to suspend similar programs until the issue could be resolved by the Legislature.
When news of the controversy broke, phones started ringing at Diversion Solutions in Red Wing. The business, founded by CEO Scott Adkisson, manages a number of driving and traffic diversion programs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado.
“We get 20 to 30 calls a day asking about it,” Adkisson said.
But Diversion Solutions offers something different from the programs being shut down around the state.
Rather than trading a traffic citation and increased insurance premiums for an educational driving class, Adkisson said his company provides a system to help individuals specifically with suspended or revoked licenses pay their fines and get back on the road legally.
“At any given time there are 500,000 people driving without insurance or a license in Minnesota,” Adkisson said. “And that’s just the people we know about.”
Through agreements with city and county governments — including Red Wing and Goodhue County — Diversion Solutions works with drivers to provide training, get citations dismissed and ensure fines are paid off.
Because the process of reinstating a license can be confusing, coupled with the necessity to drive for work, drivers with suspended or revoked licenses can rack up multiple citations, Adkisson said. Unable to pay the added fines, individuals continue to drive illegally while collecting even more citations.
“What we do is stop that cycle,” Adkisson said.
As opposed to the state, which requires citations to be paid in full before a license can be reinstated, Adkisson said Diversion Solutions gives drivers the option of a payment plan.
So long as participants stay in good standing with the program, they can resume driving legally while paying off fines, he said.
The diversion program works like this:
When a driver is pulled over in a participating jurisdiction and cited for driving on a suspended or revoked license, the officer will provide a card with details of the program.
Participants are required to pay for a self-development seminar through Diversion Solutions and fulfil all state requirements necessary to get their license back, Adkisson said. The company also checks in regularly to make sure the steps are being completed.
“We’re going to help them, but we’re going to make them responsible,” Adkisson said.
The value of the program, he added, is that it not only benefits suspended drivers, but also local jurisdictions and the community.
By structuring citation payments and reducing recidivism, the program helps keep the case load for local court systems in check, Adkisson said.
Fewer cases also mean fewer costs, something especially useful in smaller communities that hire attorneys per diem or on a case-by-case basis.
“It adds up,” said Adkisson, adding that his services have saved some communities up to $20,000 a year in reduced costs.
Additionally, getting people back on the road legally means fewer drivers without insurance — something Adkisson said prevents other motorists from becoming victims should they be in a crash with a suspended driver.
A good record
The diversion program got its start four years ago after the city of St. Paul, which worked with Adkisson previously on a fraudulent check diversion program, asked the company to develop something to reduce the number of suspended and revoked license citations going through its court system.
“That was 33 percent of their case load,” Adkisson said.
A pilot project was formed along with a sampling of different-sized cities including Duluth, South St. Paul, West St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights, Minn., he said.
After the first full year of the program, Adkisson said the results were overwhelmingly positive.
Based on data for state-run diversion programs in the 1980s with retention rates around 5 percent, Adkisson said the company set a goal to keep 15 percent of participants in good standing over a 12-month period.
The actual year-end numbers showed a 67 percent retention rate, Adkisson said.
“It was a surprise even for us,” he said. “We would have been ecstatic at 20 percent.”
He added that it has been rewarding to hear from participants how their lives were changed by the program, including getting job promotions now that they can drive legally.
Diversion Solutions has a staff of 11 instructors who conducted 127 classes last year. Adkisson said they plan to increase that to around 160 classes this year.
Although Diversion Solution’s program is different from the traffic ticket diversion programs shuttered in Wabasha County and elsewhere, Adkisson said he has been following the debate closely.
“It’s a shame that a benefit for the public has been taken away,” he said.
A Third District Court Judge ruled that Wabasha County’s ticket program, which gave drivers the option of attending a $125 educational class instead of paying certain citations, was illegal because the Sheriff’s Department kept all of the proceeds to fund training and equipment.
Typically a portion of the money paid from traffic fines is remitted to the state government.
When done properly, ticket diversion programs are a way to support local law enforcement agencies, which are frequently being asked to do more with fewer resources, Adkisson said.
In a traffic education course Diversion Solutions developed for Grand Rapids, Minn., only 12 out of 506 participants reoffended within 12 months, he said.
“That’s value in itself — it creates more time for law enforcement officers to be in the community.”
Adkisson, who worked with state legislators in the past to set up data and support systems for check fraud cases, said he expects to participate in legislative discussions later this spring.
“We have to figure out ways to benefit everybody,” he said. “That means the community, individuals and the government.”