Corporate Sponsorship for Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

n the post-9/11 era, security is the nation's top priority. Paradoxically, in that same time, funding for police has been stretched so far that now many districts can no longer afford even the most basic of crime fighting tools: police vehicles. That's the dilemma facing Sam Slay, chief of police for Springfield, FL.

Although the city of 8,800 people has a vehicle for each of its 15 officers, the fleet is aging, with several cars nearly eight years old. Plus, the cars do not have all the bells and whistles - radar, built-in computer, and camera - that Slay says are essential these days.

Springfield pays $100,000 a year to repair and replace its current fleet. As the city tightens its belt, Slay has gotten creative and is now considering an unusual and controversial approach for solving his problems.

Slay has turned to Government Acquisitions, of Charlotte, NC, for help. The business, started soon after the events of 9/11, promises to deliver free cars to every local and state agency that needs them.

What's the hitch? Corporations will sponsor the cars. In return for paying for the car (plus an unspecified amount to Government Acquisitions for its efforts), a business will have its advertisements featured on the police vehicle's hood, trunk and quarter panels for three years.

Springfield is not the only city placing its bets on advertising revenue. Government Acquisitions says it is finding sponsored cars for nearly 50 communities in 15 states. The company has yet to deliver a single car. The first sponsored vehicle should be on the road in three to six months, Ken Allison, a Government Acquisitions partner, said.

The Nitty Gritty

The idea for sponsored cars came from a group of North Carolina officers. They approached Allison and his business partners to develop a program for corporate sponsorship of NASCAR-themed law enforcement vehicles. Soon, Allison received interest from police departments all over the country.

Government Acquisitions wants to provide every officer with a new vehicle, and to replace it every three years to prevent breakdowns and cut down on repair costs. The company promises to help departments locate any type of vehicle, including patrol cars, command vehicles and trucks. Interested agencies must contact Government Acquisitions and show a need for vehicles. They then request the vehicles they want and how they should be equipped.

The request helps Government Acquisitions determine how much advertising money is needed. The needy agencies typically work with Allison to find local, regional and national sponsors who sign on for a three-year commitment. To help ease the cost, multiple sponsors can be placed on a single vehicle.

Once enough sponsors sign on, Government Acquisitions will buy the cars (the cars are titled in the police department's name) and sell them to the agency for a dollar each. At the end of three years, the agency will sell the cars back to Government Acquisitions for a dollar each.

Allison admits it will be more difficult to find sponsors in small towns with few businesses, but he also points out that these smaller communities typically need fewer cars.

The new program allows any appropriate sponsor to advertise on government vehicles. This excludes alcohol, tobacco, firearms, gaming and other inappropriate sponsors. So what is tasteful? Allison believes appropriate sponsors include real estate agencies, car dealerships, bail bondsmen, attorneys and sporting goods stores. He also suggested that breakfast cereal Capt'n Crunch could sponsor a school outreach officer's car. A promise of "appropriate and tasteful" ads has not been enough to quiet critics of sponsored cars.

Hot-Button Issue

Government Acquisition's simple idea has led to heated controversy. A group called Commercial Alert issued a letter in October to the CEOs of the nation's top 100 advertisers calling for a ban on police car ads. …