November 29th, 2002

This Idea Deserves the Ax

Rock Hill (SC) Herald

Like most government agencies, police departments around the nation are hard-pressed
for cash these days, but one solution being contemplated by some is a definite
loser: Ads on patrol cars.

A Charlotte-based company, Government Acquisitions LLC, is offering to place
ads on police cars, according to a recent Associated Press article. In return
for agreeing to run the ad, the agency receives a new patrol car for $ 1. The
firm will replace the cars every three years. It also pockets the money from
the ads, of course.

At first blush, the notion makes sense. There are thousands of patrol cars
with countless door panels, trunks and even rooftops that could be emblazoned
with Ronald McDonald’s mug or the Geico gecko instead of those ugly shields
or city seals that adorn so many. If NASCAR drivers can cover their entire bodies
with corporate logos and cities can offset the cost of civic stadiums by selling
the naming rights, where’s the harm, some may ask.

If people can’t understand the difference between, say, a basketball arena
and a police department, then perhaps our sense of civic pride has slipped even
farther than we had feared. Police agencies, fire departments, schools and libraries
are among the institutions by which citizens have long measured the worth of
their communities. To turn them into shills for commerce would only contribute
to the cynicism that eats at the heart of public life in America today.

Regrettably, it is common for politicians to promise they will never vote to
raise taxes. Once elected and faced with the realities of a down economy, these
officials sometimes will consider any alternative to telling voters the truth:
If you want good government, you must pay for it. Ads on patrol cars is the
sort of lousy idea spawned by that mentality. It deserves the death penalty


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