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And I can tell them where that gift card should go, too.

December 18, 2007, 9:59 PM

For me, most of the “Eye Openers” stories on page two of the Express, with their snide and somewhat sarcastic headlines and such, get read right around the vicinity of Forest Glen or so, and then are soon forgotten. But this one not only caught my interest, but had staying power.

The story was about a program in Rancho Cordova, California, where police are stopping drivers who are following traffic laws, and giving them $5 gift certificates to Starbucks. The idea is, according to police Sergeant Tim Curran, a method to “promote the holiday spirit and enhance good will between the traffic unit and the motoring public.”

Well intentioned, sure. Well thought out, no. They’re trying to build goodwill with this, pulling people over, and giving them a gift card worth five bucks. If it were me getting pulled over just so that the cop can give me a five dollar gift card, that whole “goodwill” argument can get thrown right out the window, since I certainly wouldn’t be taking the card in the goodwill in which it was given. At best, they’d be greeted with outright hostility from me for wasting my time, pulling me over to give me a card worth five bucks. At worst, the cop would have to bend over in front of the chief while the chief gets the needle-nose pliers and a flashlight to remove the card from where I would have placed it. All in the spirit of the holiday season, of course.

And then let’s also forget the conflict of interest here. The whole thing is essentially a marketing gimmick sponsored by four towing companies… and Starbucks Coffee. Yes, the whole thing is privately funded, and Starbucks, whose cards are being handed out, is one of the parties involved. It would be one thing if the four towing companies were doing it on their own. Starbucks involved, too? One would have to be blind to not see the conflict of interest. So let’s see… cop flashes his lights. I’m obligated to stop. And he’s not telling me that I’m speeding, but rather telling me I’m not, and for that, I’m being subjected to a marketing gimmick. Using the “authority” of the state to help big corporations hawk their goods: BAD.

Of course, on the other hand, one must think about what a safe city Rancho Cordova must be. After all, their cops have nothing better to do than to sit around watching for people to not speed and then pull them over to hand out gift cards. No real crime for the cops to deal with. No homicides, no burglaries, not even a little petit larceny. Makes you think…

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