January 14th, 2003

Police

By Bert Sahlberg
Lewiston Morning Tribune

If police officers think they have enough hats to wear in performing the tasks
of their duties, they’re not going to like the additional task of being advertising
spokespersons.

Imagine being pulled over for speeding and engaging in the following conversation
with an officer.

"You we’re going a little too fast," the officer says. "And
speaking of fast, have you tried the latest headache medicine, which works four
times faster than the leading brand?

"Here’s your speeding ticket. And remember, when you’re in a hurry to
get someplace, try Bill’s Travel Agency."

OK, this is a stretch, but the Blackfoot, Idaho, Police Department is about
to cross an unethical line. It’s acquiring three vehicles adorned with billboard-style
advertisements.

The department agreed to a deal with Government Acquisitions Inc. for three
police cars. The company offers cars to cash-strapped agencies for $1 in return
for the advertising rights to the vehicle. That means Blackfoot will have the
use of three $30,000 police cars for three years for $3.

In return, the cars will basically be billboards on wheels, advertising both
local and national services on the doors and bumpers. Police officials say there
won’t be alcohol, tobacco, gaming or political ads on the cars and also joked
they won’t include ads for doughnut shops or Viagra.

Although it looks like a great deal for the department, it has the potential
to put police officers using the vehicles in awkward situations. Say, for instance,
one of the big advertisements is for McDonald’s and the officer pulls over the
local owner of the McDonald’s for a traffic violation. What happens if that
owner says he’s one of the main reasons the police department has that vehicle
and if he receives a ticket, he will make sure McDonald’s stops advertising
on the vehicles?

Or what happens when someone pulled over offers to buy an advertisement if
he doesn’t receive a ticket?

Police officers have enough problems with public perception without having
to worry about the appearance of their integrity being compromised. Unlike police
departments, taxi companies and other public transportation modes can advertise
on their vehicles without presenting the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Blackfoot should explore other financial options to obtain the vehicles. Police
officers don’t need the extra headaches. Their job is to protect and serve,
not push goods and services.—R.S.

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