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Lights and sirens, badges and guns for the TARP cops

By Al Kamen
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 7:56 PM

Police forces around the country are scrambling to make do in these tough economic times. Nearly half the force in Camden, N.J. - not exactly known as a crime-free town - has been laid off. The bicycle unit is gone, and the canine unit lost two of its three dogs. The number of patrol cars has been halved.

But things are not so bleak for all hard-core crime fighters. Take, for example, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Even though TARP itself is winding down - the Treasury Department said Tuesday that 70 percent of TARP disbursements have been paid back and 70 percent of the money outstanding is with AIG and the auto industry - SIGTARP's proposed budget is up 30 percent, to $47 million.

SIGTARP, a law enforcement agency, already has badges, guns, ammo and flak jackets, in addition to neat windbreakers, for its personnel.

Now SIGTARP, whose chief, Neil Barofsky, is leaving at the end of this month, has put out a "task order for the installation and purchase of police equipment in official vehicles."

We're talking just lights and sirens here, not mounted .50-caliber machine guns. Still, SIGTARP is thinking of outfitting some of its couple of dozen vehicles spread across the country with "the necessary conversions," the announcement says. The locations are here and in New York, Atlanta, Long Beach and San Francisco. The vehicles include sedans, minivans, and full-size and compact SUVs.

The solicitation is quite specific on some matters. For example, the supplier must provide a "High resolution emergency LED lighting system to provide maximum visibility when illuminated, but be as inconspicuous as possible when not in use," to enable agents to sneak up on the nasty mortgage lenders.

And the lights must be "consistent with state-specific police vehicle color standards (e.g., red/blue, all blue, or all red) consistent with the state where the installation is taking place." Don't forget: "Installations in California must have at least one steady-burning red light to the front of the vehicle when the emergency lights are activated."

You'll have to install a "SIGTARP-supplied radio and antenna," which is a "one-piece unit with built-in speaker and attached microphone," so SIGTARP officials can practice saying things like "Pull over, Fernbacher."

Hey, maybe they can lend the Camden Police Department some cars on the weekends?

Coming soon: 'Gulfwatch'

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented last week that the United States is getting outgunned by Arab-language media - al-Jazeera in particular comes to mind - in the "information war" in the Middle East.

Worse, movies and television shows - areas where the United States has a solid foothold - only make things worse, giving people the impression that we're the land of bikini-clad women and professional wrestlers, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

She said she met an Afghan general whose image of Americans came almost entirely from watching "Baywatch" and pro wrestling. "The only thing he thought about Americans was that all the men wrestled and the women walked around in bikinis," she said.

It's not clear whether this gave the general a positive or a negative view of the United States. In response to challenges in the traditional media, the State Department has moved expeditiously to get its message out - in Farsi and Arabic - through social-media outlets such as Twitter.

But it's hard to imagine the Afghan general is on Twitter, so what to do? Maybe a TV show about mud-wrestling diplomats in bikinis . . .

Reagan gets his due

Planning to be anywhere near College Station, Tex., on Thursday? Then you might want to stop in President Bush I's library for the presentation of the George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service.

This year's award will be presented posthumously to President Ronald Reagan. Bush's secretary of state - and Reagan's Treasury secretary and chief of staff - James A. Baker III will accept the award on behalf of the late president.

Past recipients have been former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, evangelist Billy Graham, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

This is the first time the award is posthumous, a Texas A&M official said. Former first lady Nancy Reagan will not be there.

Some folks may remember that, certainly during the Republican presidential primaries in 1980, relations between Bush and Reagan were, if not icy, certainly quite chilly, and that Reagan was resistant to suggestions that he put Bush on the ticket as his vice president.

But Reagan "didn't have an ego like most of us have," says Reagan biographer and former colleague Lou Cannon, author of "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime." "Once Reagan put him on the ticket," any friction over political tussling in the primaries "was all past and Reagan developed almost an affection for Bush, who was completely loyal to him."

But then why did Reagan remain neutral in the 1988 primaries, when Bush was running hard for the GOP nomination against Senate Republican leader Bob Dole? True, there was no endorsement, but Cannon, who covered the White House for The Washington Post at the time, said "there was no question in any reporter's mind that he wanted Bush" to get the nomination.

It's a ticketed event, but it's free.

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