SQUAD CARS CAPTURE SPONSORS, SOME FLAK

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The police cars in Crown Point, Ind., have one arresting difference-advertiser's names are emblazoned on the trunk.

This town of 18,000 about 10 miles south of Gary, initiated its Adopt-A-Car program Jan. 31, to help equip 10 new vehicles. For $1,500, a donor gets one line on the trunk of the vehicle that states in 2-inch letters "This vehicle equipped by (donor's name)."

The lettering will remain on the cars during their full four to five years of service.

The assistant police chief, Lt. Mike McColly, said he came up with the sponsorship idea after recalling a fire truck he saw years ago in Illinois that had numerous sponsors' names on the back.

Lt. McColly said he believes the sponsorship project is unique to Crown Point and says numerous out-of-state police forces have called for information on the program.

All 26 cars in the fleet have been sponsored, although he is looking for a second sponsor for one of the cars since the company buying the space didn't want its name on the car.

Bars or other businesses that might offend the community aren't accepted as sponsors.

The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police neither supports nor opposes the project.

"My reaction when I first heard about it was `Geez, I wish we didn't have to do that,"' said Executive Director Michael Ward. Such creative programs arise because taxpayers are forcing the police to "do more with less."

The Crown Point Police Department's sponsors include local banks, an insurance agency, a pawn shop, the local Chevrolet dealer (even though the cars are 1995 Ford Crown Victorias) and the Post-Tribune in Gary.

The newspaper bought the space to show community support, said Diane Schoon, director of marketing and community relations.

"They're trying to find ways to get more police cars, and I give them credit for that," said Ms. Schoon, although she acknowledged, "There are mixed feelings within the community as well as within the [Post-Tribune] building" about the sponsorship project.

"We all thought it was a pretty funny joke," said Pete Blum, editorial page editor of the Post-Tribune and an opponent of the sponsorships.

The paper ran an editorial giving the police chief credit for innovation, Mr. Blum said, "but we also said that the city council and city administration office should get the money from somewhere else because it is embarrassing. And the city doesn't need to be embarrassed."

Mr. Blum adds that talk show host David Letterman has even joked about the project, suggesting the police cars should have signs that read "Follow me to Dunkin' Donuts."

The vehicle sponsorships also have raised concerns about whether the police seem to be endorsing one business over another. But Lt. McColly disagrees with that assertion, saying, "I don't think we're going to sell out our integrity for $1,500."

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