November 29th, 2002

Police Cars Not Rolling Billboards

Atlanta Journal and Constitution


No, it’s not the theme song from the 1950s-era TV cop drama "Dragnet."
It’s a fitting assessment of a bizarre marketing scheme being pitched to law
enforcement agencies around the nation.

Government Acquisitions LLC is promising to find corporate sponsors willing
to provide police departments shiny new patrol cars in return for paid promotional
consideration somewhere on the vehicle’s exterior. The Charlotte-based company
has at least pooh-poohed the kind of splashy decals that typically festoon NASCAR
speedsters in favor of smaller, more tasteful emblems bearing the brand names
of regional or national firms.

Ken Allison, president of the company, said 700 police departments and municipalities
have applied for the program nationwide so far, including 18 in Georgia and
two in metro Atlanta. None of the vehicles is yet in service, and it ought to
stay that way.

According to the company’s Web site, the program "is an opportunity for
[sponsors] to build brand recognition and point-of-sale activity while giving
back to the public by supporting homeland security, law enforcement, fire, rescue
and other government agencies."

Of course that’s a crock. A far more logical explanation is that the company
is trying to make a fast buck by spouting patriotic-sounding buzzwords and advertising
arcana to exploit cash-strapped police departments that can’t afford the equipment
they need.

As tacky as these rolling advertisements would look, the larger message they
would send to the public is far more troubling. Although America is living in
the era of relentless marketing, there are certain institutions that must resist
the kind of shameless commercialism that reduces the commonwealth to the lowest
common denominator. And there are certain basic services --- police protection
is surely one --- that taxpayers should be proud and happy to support.

As tempting as the idea might seem for those who want to "run government
like a business," the nation’s peace officers must not be turned into corporate


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