ALTON — Sanjuana Hinojosa was nervous when Alton police investigator Ricardo Rosas flipped on his lights and signaled her to pull over Tuesday morning.
“I was scared,” Hinojosa said. “I thought, ‘Ah, I’m gonna get a ticket.’”
Instead, much to her surprise, Rosas gave her a warning and a certificate for a bundle of free electronics at a local store.
“Merry Christmas,” Rosas told Hinojosa’s two sons before leaving. “Y’all behave for your mom.”
Hinojosa was one of many Alton residents to receive a gift certificate during the Alton Police Department’s Gift Cards in Lieu of Citations program, in which dozens of drivers were pulled over for minor traffic violations and given a gift instead of a ticket
“It feels good just seeing their smiles,” Rosas, who was participating in the event for the first time, said. “At the initial first contact, you could see the boys look worried for their mother, but when you present them that gift, you just see that smile on their face.”
Alton Police Chief Jonathan Flores said over $1,000 in gift certificates were expected to be distributed through traffic stops Tuesday.
“We want to thank all our business partners from our community that have donated business cards or services from their businesses, they’ve helped out and made this possible,” Flores said. “It says a lot. They love their community; they take pride in their community.”
A wide range of goods and services were distributed by the department, ranging from chicken wings to haircuts.
“Our department motto is ‘community first’, and we’re very community oriented. I believe that when you connect with your community it builds a solid partnership between the police department and the community we serve,” Flores said. “That sort of partnership is paramount when it comes to eliminating crime that can occur in the community.”
According to Flores, the department started the program last year.
“It was received very well. The community was very appreciative of the initiative; they really enjoyed it,” he said. “They were very grateful; they were very happy. You could see the joy in their faces, and that’s the reward for us.”
Flores said the event aids the community while strengthening the department’s relationship with the people it serves.
“It’s just us trying to give back to our community during a time when we know that costs can get very high and things can get difficult monetarily,” he said. “Anytime that we’re able to interact with our community and have a positive interaction it’s a great thing.”