December 27th, 2002

Police Cruisers May Be Out to Protect and Serve -- the Advertisers

By Denis Horgan
Hartford Courant

There’s a lot of space going to waste on the uniforms of Bristol’s police officers,
too. Just as the city is considering fielding police cars with advertisements
on them, so, too, could they take advantage of the empty acreage on the officers
as well.

The Bristol police department is looking into a proposal to place advertisements
on some of the fleet. A North Carolina company, Government Acquisitions LLC,
has offered to lease the city five cruisers for $1 a year each. In return, the
firm can place ads on the cop cars, the way that ads are seen on buses or blimps.

Why stop there?

Just as racing cars are more ads than auto, their drivers are a walking Yellow
Pages of sponsor insignia, decals, labels and promotional devices.

Champion driver Jeff Gordon adds to his weight and wind resistance wearing
so many sponsor patches—DuPont, Pepsi, Quaker State, Lowe’s, Kellogg’s, Foster
Grant Sunglasses & Eyewear, Edy’s Ice Cream, Delphi Racing, Slick 50, GMAC,
SDRC, Frito-Lay and ACDelco. No one holds that against him, so why should a
police officer feel exploited just because he or she has been turned into a
walking billboard?

In true NASCAR fashion, an officer’s traditional blue and white could be emblazoned
with ads from, say, Aladdin Bail Bonds ("We will get you out now!) whose
full page message in the Yellow Pages could transfer perfectly—cartoon criminals
behind bars and all—onto the broad back of a police officer’s jacket. Why
limit to the fender of his car the opportunity to plug, say, massage parlors
or fast food emporiums or adult movie stores?

Government Acquisitions says that they will not promote "Alcohol, tobacco,
firearms, gaming or any other inappropriate sponsor themes." But who’s
to say what’s "inappropriate" anymore?

"Gaming" inappropriate in Connecticut? Fat chance. The state budget
is as hooked on (casino and lottery) gaming as drug addicts or alcoholics are
on their drugs of choice. The state can no more give up gaming money than an
addict can walk away from the firewater or happy dust.

Alcohol and tobacco inappropriate? When the state is in a fiscal pickle, the
first things hit by new taxes are booze and smokes. Inappropriate? It’s the
state’s sturdy old gold mine. Taxwise, we’d be worse off if people actually
and appropriately gave up the weed and liquor.

Does it seem a little cheesy for a police car to be used to sell things, surrendering
its sense of authority for a few bucks? Actually it’s more than a few bucks
as a police car easily can run over $25,000. Yes, it’s cheesy.

Wrapping itself in "homeland security," President Bush and patriotism,
the North Carolina company pledges to provide the nation with rolling ad platforms
—police cars, fire trucks, ambulances (possibly with ads for ambulance-chasing
lawyers), garbage trucks, anything with a flat surface. Communities will be
better able to defeat the terrorist foe with its cop car commercials and the
Carolinians will just happen to make a few patriotic bucks.

The company’s proposal shows police cars with decal ads on the fenders, the
bumpers, the trunk, the side panels. Some look muted, some look garish. All
look cheap and like they’re exploiting the very real concerns communities are
facing as money dries up in times of tight budgets. (When budgets inevitably
get better, the cars and decision makers will merely look foolish.)

Communities such as Bristol are sniffing at the bait. A variety of reports
from around the country indicate police forces, fire departments even a life
guard company in California (where else?) have tentatively agreed to accept
cars and trucks and other goodies with ads on them.

If it actually goes through with it, Bristol could be the first in the state
to have police vehicles with ads. There’s a distinction for you. If this is
progress, heaven help us.


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