December 16th, 2002

Resist Temptation; Just Say No to Ads on Cop Cars

Minneapolis Star Tribune

So police officials in Red Wing are considering turning squad cars into roving
billboards. What a dreadful idea.

It is understandable why financially challenged police officials and city councils
are considering such proposals. Like every other unit of government, they are
increasingly looking for alternative funding. They’re painfully aware that the
squeeze on federal and state coffers is pushing the pressure down to locals
_ and that the local citizenry has little appetite for tax increases.

That reality makes free vehicles pretty tempting. North Carolina firm Government
Acquisitions says it’ll "sell" police agencies brand new cars for
$1 _ as long as the vehicles sport advertisements on the hoods and trunks. Cash-strapped
police chiefs who thought they could only dream of new fleets can now visualize
shiny sedans in the precinct parking lot. Good cop/bad cop thoughts on the matter
might go something like this:

"After all," says the smooth voice of rationalization, "police
service need not be compromised just because of a few commercials. Nothing has
to change about how officers respond to calls, or how they are received when
they arrive. People in crisis want help—they could care less whether that
help arrives in a horse and buggy or a garbage truck. Besides we’re better than
that—we wouldn’t sell out for four on the floor." But the voice of reason
counters, "Peace officers need the respect and good will of the communities
they serve. Image matters. Riding around in splashy NASCAR-like promotions undermines
the credibility of the department. When a squad pulls up to stop a fight, or
simply drives through a neighborhood, there should be no question or confusion
about whom those officers represent. Nothing, absolutely nothing other than
(fill-in-the-blank) City Police Department should appear on those vehicles."

Of course modern America is awash in commercials. Businesses like newspapers
survive on ad revenue. Convention centers and sports arenas are neck deep in
naming-rights deals. Kids get cool soccer uniforms in exchange for becoming
junior billboards. Students have color TV sets in the classrooms, computers
on the desks and soda pop in the machines when districts agree to promote one
product over another.

However, none of those groups legally carry firearms or have the same level
of life-and-death responsibility as do police officers. A crucial line must
be drawn with the men and women who protect and serve; that means taxpayers
must be willing to pay for their own squad cars.


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