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Red Wing, Minn. — The North Carolina company, Government Acquisitions Incorporated, is offering the one dollar squad cars to public safety agencies around the country. The car is paid for by a local, regional or national company, which in return paints its logo or ad on the car. Government Acquisitions facilitates the entire transaction. So the public safety agency never deals directly with the advertiser.
Captain Leon White of the Moorsville police department in North Carolina says he came up with the idea after President George W. Bush called for suggestions on how to improve homeland security after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. White says by simply adding squad cars to a police department can have a huge impact.
"If I call a police officer and say I need them to be at the police department right now, it's going to take them at least 30-45 minutes to get ready and get in here drive their personal vehicle in here and then get someone to pick them up or get in another car," White explains. "Where if I call them at their house they can be dressed ready and in their car in 5 minutes and on their way."
Moorsville was the first town to sign up. The town has yet to receive its first squad car. However, true to its nickname of "Raceway USA", Moorsville hopes to have NASCAR-style squad cars by spring.
Close to 50 municipalities have signed up with Government Acquisitions, and several others have made inquiries. The company says they will modify the cars paint jobs to suit sponsors' desires.
The Red Wing City Council is the latest to look into the program. Roger Hand is the city's special operations director. Hand says the city is always looking for new ways to economize.
"The states current budget deficit is effecting us down here," Hand says. "A lot of our local government aid is drying up. The Prairie Island nuclear power plant has repeatedly gone to legislature to have parts of it declared pollution control equipment, which reduces our tax base here. So we're constantly looking at our budget and attempting to be as frugal as we can."
Hand says Red Wing has a fleet of eight marked vehicles for an area of 4,300 square miles. One of Red Wing's squad cars was donated by the Prairie Island Indian Community and has a small "donated by" sticker. Hand would like a car for each of his 26 officers.
But Hand is concerned about the community perception.
"If we do have local advertisers on the vehicle, is there going to be a perception that they would be the people who would receive our services more quickly than those who chose not to advertise?" he asks.
Other critics have even greater concerns. Is the squad delivering a speeding ticket or a pizza? They say it may be difficult to take the police officer inside seriously.
The Oregon-based Commercial Alert organization along with 20 criminal justice experts recently sent letters to the country's leading advertisers asking them not to purchase ads for police cars. The national non-profit organization aims to protect communities from commercialism. Gary Ruskin is the executive director of Commercial Alert. Ruskin says these ads turn police cars into rolling billboards.
"When you turn police into tawdry huksters for burgers and fries of course you reduce their integrity and moral authority," Ruskin says. "And that only invites problems into the community including crime."
Ruskin says federal funding should be increased for law enforcement. He says communities are being forced to look at what he considers degrading measures.
"Police should not be for sale," Ruskin says. "Justice should not be for sale. The police car is perhaps the single most visible symbol of our law enforcemnt in communities across the country."
But Government Acquisitions president Ken Allison says it does not accept advertising for tobacco, alcohol, firearms and gambling.
"There's no conflict of interest issue," Allison says. "The department has no agreement with the sponsor and they never receive any money from the sponsor. That's where our company comes in. We take care of all of that and donate the vehicles. Every officer I've spoken with says they have no problems doing their duty as long as they have the vehicles and equipment to do so. If you break the law, they're going to arrest you."
Red Wing Council members are intrigued by the cost saving project. But they are not keen on a NASCAR paint job. They'd like to see a prototype before approving the project. Government Acquisitions Incorporated has yet to deliver its first squad car but hopes to do so by early next year.