Idaho may have gained the dubious distinction of leading the West in regressive economic innovations. In the small town of Blackfoot, local police will soon show off the first of their three new police cruisers, all free to the taxpayer. Well, not exactly free. The patrol cars will cost a buck, and there is a slight hitch -- a Faustian Bargain -- if you will. The hoods, trunks and side panels of the police cars will display commercial advertisements. The Idaho Statesman says the Blackfoot Police Department is receiving its new patrol cars from an outfit called Government Acquisitions LLC, out of Charlotte, N.C. The private business tempts cash-strapped communities and states such as Idaho with vehicles sponsored by local and national companies.
Photos of the fancy police and emergency ambulance vehicles can be
seen at the company's Website: governmentacquisitions.com. The
business appears to be capitalizing on the national trend of
privatizing public services traditionally funded by taxpayers.
About a dozen communities throughout the country have
signed on to this peculiar alliance, and some 75 more are
considering it. As Government Acquisitions puts it, "Instead of
raising tax dollars or obtaining government funding to purchase
vehicles and equipment for law enforcement, fire, rescue, EMS and
other government agencies that provide homeland security, we
acquire funding from local, regional and national companies in
exchange for sponsor recognition and donate the vehicles and
equipment to the government agencies."
Small towns in the
West may need money, but do small town residents really want to
link law enforcement with advertising? As it stands, gas pumps now
feature recorded and video advertising. Television monitors in
airport waiting rooms assault the frazzled nerves of travelers. For
some reason we have allowed our clothes to become walking
billboards, covered with shoe-company logos and the names of
fashion designers. Our children recite commercial jingles like they
are nursery rhymes. And remember the plan to place ads in the night
skies? Trust me, as we breathe, there are men in dark suits working
out the details. Idaho's City of Rocks -- arguably set under the
clearest, starriest skies in the nation -- may someday become a
City of Lights.
Thank goodness we have opposition from a
nonprofit group in Portland, Ore., called Commercial Alert
(commercialalert.org). "Our mission," the group says, "is to keep
the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it
from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of
family, community, environmental integrity and democracy."
Among Commercial Alert's board of directors are Ralph
Nader, Green Party presidential candidate in 2000, and the Rev. Tom
Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against
Legalized Gambling. (By the way, I thought the Idaho lottery was
supposed to solve the state's funding problems.)
Oct. 30, the group sent a letter signed by 20 "criminal-justice
experts" to the chief executive officers of 100 national
corporations. The letter urged the bosses not to advertise on
police and emergency vehicles. Citing a need to retain impartiality
in law enforcement and not make officers the "objects of ridicule
and contempt," the group said, "It is understandable that some
police departments would succumb to this temptation. Many of them
need money, and the nation's politicians have not provided it. But
dependence on corporate advertising simply delays the day of fiscal
reckoning. Besides, the answer to the budget problems of local
police forces is not to turn their cars -- the most visible police
presence in most communities -- into pitchmobiles, and officers
themselves into hucksters on wheels."
of interest exist to the rolling billboards. Will a deputy in a
town like Blackfoot, population 9,600, be reluctant to pull over
the owner of the local Subway shop or other franchise who has
either directly or indirectly paid to advertise on the patrol car's
hood? And wouldn’t the placement of used car ads cheapen the
authority of authority figures?
How do you seriously obey
a command from a police officer with a donut commercial on his
door? Aren't there enough jokes about cops and donuts?
does not take a fortune-teller to see where this bad idea might
lead, especially in Idaho, a state that continues to underfund
public education at all levels. In a worst-case scenario, public
school children could end up wearing uniforms laden with corporate
patches -- Nike, McDonald's, Chevy, Pepsi, Coke, Starbucks, Simplot
-- whatever it takes to keep the heat on and the salaries paid.
Following this idea to its dismal conclusion,
administrators, teachers, students and even janitors may one day
have to adhere to a code of conduct that best befits the
corporation's image. Textbooks scrutinized. Background checks
required. Lesson plans edited in advance by out-of-town hacks.
But why worry? The bad corporations with the worst
motives were weeded out last year. Ten-four that.