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© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2002
You've just been stopped for driving without a license, registration and insurance.
Will it make you feel better if you learn that your ride to the pokey is being provided by the good hands people whose familiar logo is on the door that is opened for you right before the familiar reminder to "watch your head."?
That's what I was wondering about the other day as I was driving south right after having heard about Dade City and Zephyrhills signing on with an outfit that is going to provide advertising on squad cars.
I was on the Suncoast Parkway, so far devoid of the forest of billboards that line other Florida roads, and wondering about general trends in advertising and especially about private companies' putting their names on public venues and property. And, no, for the record, I was not en route to the St. Pete Times Forum at the time. Besides, the St. Pete Times Forum, under any other name, has always been a private venture.
I just have to wonder what kind of target demographic you have to be looking for to advertise on squad cars.
Most people, good guys and bad, don't deal with cops at the best and happiest times of their lives. You're either the burgled or the burglar, the robbed or the robber. Hardly anybody calls the police to report that something really good happened and then glances at the stick-on sign on the responding car for a little light reading.
My sources tell me that only national advertising will be sought and that alcohol, tobacco, firearm or gambling companies need not apply.
I guess the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws is out of the question.
But I don't know why local government shouldn't do business with local enterprises.
Hooters, of course, will be out because it serves beer, but Mons Venus, which has already made a bid to buy naming rights to a streetcar station on Tampa's new trolley line, doesn't serve alcohol.
Mons owner Joe Redner has run for public office before and is a public spirited kind of guy; I'm sure he would be interested.
And whose telephone number are you most likely to need when dealing with the guys and gals in blue? How about bail bondsmen? How about lawyers?
Rather than the name of a nationally known soft drink brand or fast food chain, consumers of police services might be happier to get a telephone number for Lawyers-R-Us with a catchy slogan like, "A reasonable doubt for a reasonable price."
So far, I am assured, the plans are for the advertising and the selection of advertisers to be low key and in good taste.
But why stop there?
Why not throw an STP patch on police uniforms and whenever an official police spokesman is on camera you could have some flunky standing next to him or her continuously pulling off one cap and substituting another like they do with the winners of big auto races.
Defendants swallowing evidence could be instantly shown a flash card reminding them which beverage things go better with, and pepper spray canisters could carry a brief message from eye drop manufacturers. The county jail (in counties where privatization hasn't already taken over) could be franchised out to a motel chain. Would a decent continental breakfast be too much to ask? Because most of the agreements so far in this area have been with small departments, I think county sheriffs would gladly use the space for help-wanted ads so they could continue to scoop up underpaid city police after the cities have sprung for their training. And it would seem like advertisements for television shows such as NYPD Blue, CSI, Law and Order and, heaven knows, America's Most Wanted and Cops would be natural choices.
I have no problem if our local gendarmes want to ride in cars hawking KFC, Wendy's, Burger King or Pizza Hut, but it should be apparent to you now that there is one outlet that some would consider to be a natural.
I'm not going to recommend it. I didn't even think of Dunkin' Donuts.
But in exchange for just one Get Out of Jail Free card, I will happily provide you with the name, description and license number of the colleague who did.