The city of Springfield, Fla., will soon be getting 15 new squad cars equipped with the latest in computer databases, satellite tracking, and back-seat jail bars. The cost of each vehicle is only $1 ... with a catch.
These aren't traditional "black and white" police cars. Instead, each cruiser will be emblazoned with advertisements that could vary from local services ("Minnie's Beauty Salon" and "Bert's Radiators") to, say, national doughnut or burger chains. Dozens of cash-strapped towns are also considering the idea, an offer made by a marketing company.
While law-enforcement experts see a whole new source of revenue to replace aging, outdated fleets, critics wonder whether this could mean we'll be seeing live TV broadcasts of car chases in which the pursuers sport ads for happy meals next to each siren.
In additions to questions of conflict of interest, some wonder whether this is one step too far in the commercialization of America.
"American society has really gone beyond the pale in turning every part of the environment into ad space," says Professor Michael Maynard, who teaches journalism, advertising, and PR at Temple University. "There should be some things that are off limits."
But proponents counter that the ads will be tasteful (none for alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or gambling). City buses and dog-catcher trucks already carry such advertisements, and this is merely the next logical step, they say.
Government Acquisitions LLC, the firm in Charlotte, N.C., that is pushing the idea, is already getting lots of takers.