November 12th, 2002

Just Say No to Ads on Police Cars

By Wes Hasden
Chattanooga Times/Chattanooga Free Press

In a society where newborns wear clothing decorated with a commercial logo and
an entire sport is a walking and moving billboard, it would seem there’s no
place left to put advertising. But one company in Charlotte, N.C., has found
a way to place advertising where it has never before been placed. The fruit
of its labor will be coming to the Tennessee Valley soon.

Government Acquisitions LLC will provide police cruisers to law $1 per car
as long as the vehicle can be emblazoned with ads. At first glimpse, it seems
to be a good idea. After all, big cities, rural counties and small towns pressed
for cash can obtain much-needed police cruisers in return for providing a new
vehicle (no pun intended) for advertising.

It’s a dandy concept, and its appeal is obvious. Bledsoe County already has
signed up. It will get 10 new Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors $1 each.
Sheriff Bob Swafford is excited; he’ll soon have vehicles without putting a
dent in his budget or in the wallets of Bledsoe County taxpayers. Still, the
notion of advertising-sponsored police cruisers is bad public policy.

Some government officials properly understand that private enterprise and public
safety don’t always mix. Chattanooga police have no plans to take $300,000 for
15 top-of-the-line police cars. Chuck Ziegler, chief of police in Athens, Tenn.,
said his city rejected the idea of logo-laden cars a couple of years ago.

Still, the Charlotte company says it is "working with 250 towns, cities
and counties all across the United States" to provide "sponsored"
vehicles for a buck. It’s a bargain that should die aborning.

Police cars have a specific and important role in society and they should be
easily identifiable. Flashing lights and standard decals that provide departmental
identification are all that are needed.

Anything more will cause confusion. That’s especially true for children taught
to look for help from the police and other law enforcement officials, and for
adults made wary by the increasing incidence of police impostors stopping motorists
on the nation’s roads.

Also, police cars decked out with pizza delivery or beer company logos or painted
with some firm’s garish corporate colors surely will make those who ride in
them the butt of undeserved jokes. In the long run, the rolling ads will cause
the police to lose a considerable amount of hard-earned civic respect and moral
authority. That’s a poor bargain, and hardly worth the money it saves.

The loss of respect and authority is reason enough for public officials to
say no to the monetary blandishments of the Charlotte company. There is a place
for major corporate advertising on cars—watch a NASCAR race to see it done
to perfection—but it is not on police vehicles.

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