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01-21-03: Cool wheels for cops
Law enforcement departments can get free cruisers with advertisements on them

The Daily Standard
    A North Carolina company is turning heads in communities nationwide by rolling out NASCAR-themed police cruisers, but don't expect any of the new age cars to show up locally.
    The prospect of free police cruisers might seem enticing to cash-strapped law enforcement agencies, but local law enforcement officials unanimously told The Daily Standard they would not be in favor of putting advertising on the sides of their cruisers.
    Government Acquisitions Inc., based in Charlotte - also the home of NASCAR - has outfitted more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies with new cruisers. Advertising is done in a tasteful manner, with no ads for alcohol, tobacco, firearms, gaming or anything else "inappropriate,"    ompany press release says.
    "I'm not a rolling billboard," Chauncey village police Chief Mike Marcum said this morning. "The cars may have one ad or five but nothing that is going to interfere with law enforcement."
    Marcum said the town in Athens County is expecting delivery of its first two cruisers from Government Acquisitions within the next three months or so. The chief said he does not know when the town of 1,500 last had a brand new cruiser. 
    The new cruisers will allow the department to retire a 1992 car with 199,000 miles on it and a 1996 cruiser with maintenance problems, Marcum said. Chauncey's only other cruisers are a pair of 1998 models purchased used from Fairfield County, he said.
    Agencies that contract with Government Acquisitions can buy the cars after three years or trade them in for new cruisers, free of charge, with new advertising. The company's goal is to provide a cruiser for every officer and the company also customizes sports cars and traditional cruisers for local DARE programs.
    Marcum compared the cruiser ads to decals seen on dragsters or the smaller sponsor ads seen on NASCAR vehicles.
    A handful of Ohio communities are in the process of getting Government Acquisition cars, but no local agencies are among them.
    "You open yourself to the appearance of impropriety," Celina police Chief Dave Slusser said. "The only way I would ever see it working is if you have a national company totally detached from the community. But if they're totally detached, why would they want to advertise here?"
    The company sells patrol car ad space to national and local advertisers. All advertising contracts are between Government Acquisitions and the individual companies to avoid potential conflicts of interest for the law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies also derive no profit from the advertising. Local agencies do, however, retain the right to approve or reject any potential advertisers, Marcum said.
    "Even if the police department could do everything right, there is still going to be what appear to some people ..." to be a conflict, Slusser said.
    The Celina Police Department has seven marked patrol cruisers. The department tries to replace two cars every two years and the last pair cost $21,000 each, Slusser said.
    Rockford Chief Paul May said he would be willing to try the program - but only after another local agency tests the water.
    "We're always up for free stuff, but I don't know ... We're supposed to be impartial and not take sides. I'm just not sure what people would think of it," May said.
    The Rockford department recently purchased a used cruiser from Decatur, Ind., for $6,500 to expand its fleet to three, May said.
    The Mercer County Sheriff's Office also will not be sporting the splashy cruisers for a couple of reasons. Not only is advertising on law enforcement vehicles unprofessional, it is also illegal for Ohio sheriff's offices, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said.
    Sheriff's office vehicles are governed by the Uniform Car Marking Commission, Grey said. The only differences in markings on cruisers throughout the state are the license plates, he said.
    Additionally, Buckeye State Sheriffs Association members discussed the issue at a board of directors meeting last week and the consensus was against pushing for changes that would allow ads on sheriff's cruisers.
    "I have heard of law enforcement agencies doing it, but we don't think it looks very professional on the cars," Grey said.
    But Chauncey's Marcum said local officials' attitudes could change as the phenomenon spreads across the state.
    "This has all really snowballed around here ever since we decided to do it and the news media picked up on it," Marcum said.
    Several neighboring agencies to the Athens County village are considering signing on with Government Acquisitions, he said. In this part of the state, Marcum said the Lakeview (Logan County) police department is considering the program.


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