Sticker shock 

Crossing the Thin Blue Line

"The Thin Blue Line is a phrase known worldwide to police officers. It denotes the final barrier which stands between our citizens and chaos."

You've seen them. They hurtle past you on Ga. 400, cut you off in the Phipps Plaza parking lot, and linger for days in short-term parking at the airport. Nine times out of 10, they're on an expensive car. Sometimes the stripe in the middle of the black rectangle will be blue, other times red.

What are these power decals? Do they really represent a close connection to the police and fire departments -- and, rumor has it, immunity from the law?

My goal was get one.

Reaching high into the stratosphere of my social circle, I met the proud owner of one of these stickers. We'll call him Joe.

Joe lives in Roswell. He has a pool, a hot tub, an acre of property. He also has a $50,000 SUV and a Mercedes. And what does he have on both to elevate their elite status even further? You guessed it: power decals -- two on the SUV and one on the Benz.

"Don't use my real name. Those stickers cost me $32,000 over two years," he said.

He must be kidding. Let's say the average ticket is $125. That would be an unlikely 256 tickets. He would've gotten a better return buying WorldCom stock.

"Are they really that good?" I asked.

"Well, I got the first one from Sheila. Her brother's a cop. The other came from Gwen. Her dad's a park ranger," he explained. "So far, I've never been pulled over."

So these were women he'd been out with -- and he'd spent the $32,000 on dates.

I'd have to delve deeper. I looked no further than my office parking deck.

There were two prospects in my immediate field of view. One was a BMW, the other a Lexus. Both had stickers with blue stripes.

It was time to track down the owners. BMW was willing to talk.

"I used to work at a local police department doing consulting work," explained Yvonne (not her real name). "Through connections to the sheriff at the department, I was able to get my sticker. They're called 'Thin Blue Line' stickers."

"Do they really work?" I asked.

"I've been pulled over four times and I've never gotten a ticket. Three of the times, the police made references to the sticker. The fourth time, I volunteered where it came from and he let me go with a warning. Yes, they've worked for me."

Yvonne pointed out that she acquired the stickers for a legitimate reason: She'd done years' worth of work for local police departments.

"How do I get one?" I asked.

She said I had to know someone in the force.

Dissatisfied, I began an Internet search to find out how I might acquire a decal. After my five-minute Google search for a Thin Blue Line decal proved fruitless, I decided to try looking for the fire department's "Thin Red Line" (I guessed at the name). Perhaps it would work just as well.

After skipping over a couple of Thin Red Line movie review URLs, I quickly found a website where I could order my very own Thin Red Line of Courage decal -- for a mere $3 through the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation. This was too easy.

As for the Thin Blue Line decal, it was impossible to find. So the police version must be legitimate.

Driving home from work one day, I notice a couple of less-flashy cars proudly boasting power decals. One was a minivan, the other a Ford Escort. Were they posing for the sake of impunity, or were they simply expressing their support of the force? Perhaps they knew of a website I didn't.

One thing's certain -- and another is becoming clearer by the minute: If you're looking to cheat the police out of a ticket, you're crossing a thin line. Unless, perhaps, the one on your decal happens to be blue.

letters.atl@creativeloafing.com

Explanation of the Thin Blue Line taken from www.thinblueline.com, an online tribute to NYPD officers killed in the line of duty Sept. 11.

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