"[Our police department's] current graffiti van was purchased by private money, and corporations have logos all over it."

05 OCTOBER 2002: “[Our
police department’s] current graffiti van was purchased by private money,
and corporations have logos all over it.”

from the October 03, 2002
edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1003/p01s01-ussc.html

Your ad here: Cop cars
as the next billboards

By Daniel B. Wood | Staff
writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LOS ANGELES – The city of
Springfield, Fla., will soon be getting 15 new squad cars equipped with
the latest in computer databases, satellite tracking, and back-seat jail
bars. The cost of each vehicle is only $1 … with a catch.


    These
aren’t traditional “black and white” police cars. Instead, each cruiser
will be emblazoned with advertisements that could vary from local services
(“Minnie’s Beauty Salon” and “Bert’s Radiators”) to, say, national doughnut
or burger chains.
Dozens of cash-strapped towns are also considering
the idea, an offer made by a marketing company.


    While
law-enforcement experts see a whole new source of revenue to replace aging,
outdated fleets, critics wonder whether this could mean we’ll be seeing
live TV broadcasts of car chases in which the pursuers sport ads for happy
meals next to each siren.


    In additions
to questions of conflict of interest, some wonder whether this is one step
too far in the commercialization of America.

    “American
society has really gone beyond the pale in turning every part of the environment
into ad space,” says Professor Michael Maynard, who teaches journalism,
advertising, and PR at Temple University. “There should be some things
that are off limits.”


    But proponents
counter that the ads will be tasteful (none for alcohol, tobacco, firearms,
or gambling). City buses and dog-catcher trucks already carry such advertisements,
and this is merely the next logical step, they say.


    Government
Acquisitions LLC, the firm in Charlotte, N.C., that is pushing the idea,
is already getting lots of takers.


    Since
May, 12 police departments ˆ in locations as diverse as Ozark, Ala., and
Caddo Valley, Ariz. ˆ have signed up for the offer. The company says it
has been inundated with enquiries from police. “Everybody wins. Cities
get the extra protection they need, and businesses get a way to contribute
to the local police,” says Ken Allison, managing partner of the company.


    But at
least one observer is worried about the possible implications of such a
deal. “I see a problem with conflict of interest right out of the gate,”
says Prof. Gary Kritz, who teaches advertising and marketing at Seton Hall
University in New Jersey. “If local police forces have advertisements for
local businesses, might the police be tempted to look the other way if
one of those businesses commit crimes against society? The ads could in
effect be viewed as bribing a public officer, which in itself is a crime.”


    One of
the first towns to actually approve the idea is Springfield, Fla., population
9,000. City commissioners recently glanced at their aging fleet of squad
cars, and their tax-income projections for the next few years, and decided
to look into the idea to help them police their streets. “We don’t have
property tax, we don’t have sales tax, and we are very limited on state
revenue sharing,” says police chief Sam Slay. “I’ll be honest and say I
didn’t like the idea at first, but from a practical standpoint this is
something we just cannot ignore.”

    Gary
Gernandt, a city councilman in Omaha, Neb., initially didn’t like the idea
either, but says the savings for the city could top $1 million. “We think
the idea is worth exploring. Our current graffiti van was purchased
by private money, and corporations have logos all over it.
Our stadium
has ads on the fences and corridors ˆ as does our civic auditorium. As
long as it’s done tastefully, advertising on police cars is no different.”


    But police
cars are different, say some legal scholars. There is a danger of the appearance
of impropriety in the eyes of the public. And there are practical issues
of proper identification of the cars.


    “Ads
would distract from the civic symbols, emergency phone numbers, squad-car
numbers,” says Robert Pugsley, a law professor at Southwestern University
School of Law in Los Angeles. “A police car should not look like a NASCAR.
It could lead to legal difficulties.”


    Still
others wonder whether the ads will stop at police cars. They muse that
logos might end up on the lapels or trousers of cop uniforms ˆ in the same
way that a woman recently began selling ad space on her bowling skirt,
and a bald head offered his head to the highest advertising bidder on eBay.
And
they’re worried about other recent agreements between private businesses
and public entities. The San Diego City Council, for example, is currently
weighing a proposal for the city to partner with GM. In exchange for allowing
advertising on its beachfront lifeguard towers, the automobile company
is offering to give the city 35 vehicles. And the town of St. Peters, Mo.,
just announced that it is going to experiment with leasing ads on the sides
of its trash-collection trucks.


    “I really
feel we’ve finally gone completely over the edge of appropriateness and
better judgment into a fuzziness between commercial and public discourse
that is really dangerous,” says Kalle Lasn, author of several books on
the rise of advertising and publisher of Adbusters Magazine. “We’ve already
tracked the rise of ads into every area of life from urinals to golf holes.
I think this will diminish respect for the whole institution of police,”
Mr. Lasn says.

COURTESY: D. SILVER!