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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ads On Ohio Sheriff's Cars: Censored In 2003

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Glass City Jungle in Toledo has broken word that officials are considering plastering corporate advertisements on city police cruisers, a plan that would open a fresh revenue stream for a Northern Ohio municipality apparently desperate for lucre. The idea isn't original and a similar scheme by a rural sheriff in Meigs County on the Ohio River was declared illegal in 2003. One of the reasons it failed: The probability of confusion. A law enforcement patrol car festooned with ads might be mistaken for a commercial vehicle. In other words: Is it a pizza delivery man or the sheriff?

Sensible lawyers saw interesting court cases developing, with judges having to sort through testimony that a motorist didn't stop because he thought a Dominoes driver wanted to hand him a ticket. A lengthy opinion by former Attorney General Jim Petro NIXED the Meigs County ads on a number of legal grounds, including a state law that specifies how Ohio's sheriff's cars must be marked.

Later that year, Petro issued another ruling about township police cars that found they could legally DISPLAY corporate insignia or decals. The same marking rules that cover sheriffs didn't apply to townships, a loophole that now looks big enough for the Goodyear blimp to float through. But Petro's opinion involving a Youngstown-area community did not endorse the scheme. Instead, it went out of its way to denounce the plan.

"Nonetheless, I must reiterate the problems . . . that such markings pose for law enforcement. Statutes like R.C. 311.28, R.C. 4549.13, and R.C. 2913.441, which makes it a criminal violation for any person who is not a law enforcement officer to display on a vehicle an emblem of a law enforcement agency, all serve the same underlying public purpose -- to ensure 'that law enforcement vehicles are immediately and easily recognizable as such.' This assurance serves to protect the safety of the public and promote effective and professional law enforcement," Petro's opinion declared.

Again, there was the confusion angle, but this time Petro emphasized the hazards to the public -- "a citizen followed or stopped by a vehicle with extraneous markings, unrelated to law enforcement, may be as easily misled, with the attendant dangers, as one who is stopped by a vehicle with no markings at all."

Bottomline: Police cars should be easily recognizable. They should be distinctive. They should not be revenue generating billboards on wheels. The flashing lights and sirens should be going off at the Statehouse, where the Ohio General Assembly needs to step on the gas stop this nonsense immediately.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Bill, I wasn't aware of the ruling by Petro. That was very helpful and informative.