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Police cruisers could sport ads

November 22, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith is considering a North Carolina company's offer to supply a fleet of police cruisers for $1 - if they carry paid advertisements on them.

The company, Government Acquisitions Inc., bills the idea as a way for police departments nationwide to get new patrol cars without busting their budgets.

Fire departments, rescue squads and some nongovernment agencies are eligible to participate, too.

Government Acquisitions President Ken Allison said in a phone interview from his Charlotte, N.C., office Thursday that he and his associates were inspired by President George W. Bush's call to support "homeland security." They started their business about three months ago.

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Government Acquisitions would sell ads on the vehicles and keep the revenue. It would replace each vehicle every three years.

Police departments and other agencies would pay $1 to the dealer when they pick up the vehicles.

Ads featuring themes inappropriate for public safety - such as alcohol, tobacco, firearms and gambling - would not be allowed.

Smith said he learned of the offer Wednesday and thinks there's "some obvious potential." He's planning to pitch it to Hagerstown's mayor, the City Council and the police union.

"My guess is the taxpayers would like some relief ...," Smith said. "Our budget's stretched pretty tight."

Three Hagerstown officials were enthused about the proposal Thursday.

"I think it's a good idea, as long as the advertising is not anti-social," Mayor William M. Breichner said.

Breichner said that government dabbling in commercialism is nothing new, noting that county buses and the city's Little League and Hagerstown Suns ballfields feature ads.

"I would be fascinated to hear more about it," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said, calling the idea "very attractive."

People opposed to the idea are probably the same traditionalists upset by arenas named after corporations, he said.

"I think it's a neat idea ...," Councilwoman Carol Moller said. "I think it's worth looking into, too. I think there's nothing to lose."

Breichner said the topic may be on the City Council's agenda early next month, assuming Smith has gathered enough information.

The offer isn't guaranteed. Allison said his company will supply vehicles only if an advertiser signs on to sponsor that particular municipality.

Allison said a few people have ridiculed his company's proposal, suggesting that Viagra or Dunkin' Donuts ads might be plastered on patrol cars, but that's not the case.

He wouldn't name the sponsors his company is talking to, but said the categories might include auto sales, home security, animal protection and real estate. The sponsors might be local, regional or national.

Government Acquisitions has promised to work with police departments to make the ads noticeable, but not dominant. The smallest ads would be 5 inches by 8 inches, Allison said.

More than 600 public agencies have expressed interest in getting vehicles for $1 and a small percentage have "committed" to the program, Allison said.

As of Thursday, the "committed" list - shown at Government Acquisition's Web site - had 24 police departments in nine states, mostly in the South. Two were in Pennsylvania.

The Elizabeth Township Police Department, 15 miles south of Pittsburgh, decided three or four weeks ago to take part, Deputy Chief Bob Wallace said.

That department doesn't expect to get any cars for at least a few months and doesn't know yet how many it will get.

Wallace said the department needs 16 cars, which would allow each officer to have his own car to take home at night, Wallace said. The department now has 16 cars that were purchased in 1997.

"Our fleet is getting old and starting to mount up repairs bills," Wallace said.

Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades said he'll consider the offer, too, because saving about $22,000 per cruiser is tough to ignore.

"In this day and age, you've got to be pretty open-minded," he said.

The sheriff's department runs patrol cars as long as it can, Mades said. Some are five or six years old and approaching 150,000 miles on the odometer.

A Maryland State Police spokesman in Pikesville said the department would not comment on the idea.

Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster of the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Sheriff's Department said he has mixed feelings about the proposal. One question is whether government and advertising should mix.

Chambersburg (Pa.) Police Chief Michael DeFrank said the reaction in his department has been split, but he is open to discussing it.

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