Come in, Krispy Kreme

  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.)

Last 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."

Obvious conflicts 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?

It 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.

Stephen J. Lyons is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). A displaced Westerner, he lives and writes in a small town in Illinois.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....