March 8th, 2003
State Opposes Ads on Police Cruisers; Not Legal, Attorney General Advises
An opinion from Ohio’s attorney general could prevent local governments
from entering into deals allowing advertising on police cruisers.
Attorney General Jim Petro advised county prosecutors this week that it would
be illegal to put advertising on sheriff’s department cruisers.
His office said Ohio law requires uniform markings on all sheriffs’ vehicles
across the state.
The nonbinding opinion doesn’t specifically mention local governments, but
appears to discourage villages and townships from putting advertising-bedecked
cruisers on the streets.
It says the ads could allow fleeing motorists to successfully argue that they
did not stop when ordered to do so because the rolling billboard pursuing them
did not resemble a police car.
Petro’s lawyers also said police cars used for traffic enforcement must be
clearly and distinctly marked, a line that could be blurred by ads.
The opinion was in response to a request for advice from Meigs County Prosecutor
Pat Story sought on behalf of commissioners in the county, 80 miles southeast
County Sheriff Ralph Trussell had been considering a deal to replace his aging
cruisers with new, ad-filled patrol cars costing $1 each for a three-year lease.
"I never really got too excited about it. It sounded like a good deal,
but I was not sure it would ever be approved. It was worth a shot," he
The deal was offered by Government Acquisitions, a Charlotte, N.C.-based company
which has received considerable publicity about its plan to use police cars
as billboards but apparently has yet to deliver its first cruiser.
Petro’s opinion also suggested the company’s agreement would violate state
law because it would allow the company to use images of sheriffs’ cars - which
must include Ohio’s state seal - to market products.
The state seal may be used only with the permission of the governor.