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Police Pentagon Symbol To Grace License Plates

Plates would serve as tribute, says Hull. But would motorists be fooled into thinking they’re fundraising?

Since last October, Arlington police have been using one image, on T-shirts, buttons and hats, to raise awareness and money for Sept. 11 victims.

Found outside the Pentagon by an Arlington SWAT team member, the image designed by David Paranteau, a Dallas graphic artist with a history in New York City and as a volunteer firefighter, serves as a memorial to both attack sites. A Pentagon surrounds the date 9-11, with the World Trade Center towers serving as the 11, atop an American flag.

Last week, Arlington police, along with Falls Church legislator Del. Robert Hull (D-38), announced that the symbol would grace Virginia license plates, along with the motto "Fight Terrorism," possibly as early as the first anniversary of the attacks.

After the attacks last September, "so many people wanted to be able to help, and only a few people could," Hull said. "I saw this as a way for people who couldn’t show support for victims to do so now."

<b>BUT THE TAG</b> does raise some questions: If the now-familiar symbol has been used for fundraising in the past, will it mislead Virginia drivers wanting to support the victims of Sept. 11? Will the state be cashing in on the terrorist attacks.

Special license plates cost between $10 and $25 more than standard issue Virginia plates, with the more expensive plates, like the Chesapeake Bay plate, set up to send some revenue to charitable associations. Last year, special plates generated $4.8 million for the state, said Pam Goheen, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

John Carter didn’t think that the "Fight Terrorism" plates would fool Virginia motorists who wanted to contribute to Sept. 11 victims. Carter, an Arlington resident, left the Arlington branch of the DMV Monday on his way home.

"If they’re just blindly getting the plate, that might change" when they found out that no money was going to charities, he said. "If they want to donate money, they’ll want to know where it’s going."

Jerome Hunter, an Alexandria resident heading into the DMV on his lunch break, agreed. "I wouldn’t assume that it was raising money for charity," he said. "To raise funds, that would be nice. If it’s a way to show appreciation, that’s pretty cool too."

<b>THAT WAS HULL’S</b> aim, spurred on by one of his constituents. Shortly after the attacks, Falls Church resident Vincent Rotundo called Hull, asking him to introduce legislation to offer a license plate featuring an American flag and the words "Fight Terrorism."

That dovetailed with efforts already underway by some Arlington police, who were trying to find a way to get the symbol onto Virginia plates. Kevin Reardon, a lieutenant on Arlington’s SWAT team, had been using the symbol on pins and T-shirts since last October.

He and Ken Dennis, a fellow policeman and president of the county’s police union, were interested in getting the symbol onto Virginia plates, but were dismayed by the time it can take to get a specialty license plate approved.

"We found out through the DMV about Del. Hull’s," said Reardon. "So it fit in there. We felt the tag we were proposing fit the bill." Luckily, Hull’s legislation was not specific about the sign, and the Arlington symbol incorporates the American flag.

Reardon and Dennis had been using the symbol on T-shirts and lapel pins since last October, after officer John Gustafson found it while patrolling the grounds of the Pentagon in September.

Reardon tracked the design to Paranteau, and with Paranteau’s blessing, Reardon began mass producing the shirts and pins to raise money for Sept. 11-linked charities like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the New York Police And Fire Widow's & Orphans Fund.

"We’ve sold over $100,000, and approximately 35 percent goes to charity," said Reardon, with the rest paying production costs, and costs of mailing the shirts to customers around the country.

"We haven’t advertised this," said Reardon. "It’s all been through word of mouth."

<b>IT TAKES 350</b> interested motorists before the DMV will begin producing license plates. Hull and Reardon said they’ve already met that threshold, after stories about the plates ran in the Washington Post and television stations around Virginia last Friday.

"The day appeared in Post, we received 2,000 requests via e-mail for applications," Reardon said.

But orders for the plates continue to roll in. Applications for the plate are available from Det. Jim Page, Arlington County Police Department, 1425 N. Courthouse Rd., Arlington, Va. 22201, or via e-mail at <a href="mailto:jpage@co.arlington.va.us">jpage@co.arlington.va.us</a>.

Information about Virginia’s special plates is available online at <a href="http://www.dmv.state.va.us/webdoc/citizen/vehicles/plate_search.asp">www.dmv.state.va.us/webdoc/citizen/vehicles/plate_search.asp</a>, and information about the t-shirts and lapel pins featuring the Pentagon symbol is available on the Arlington police department’s Web page at <a href="http://www.co.arlington.va.us/police">www.co.arlington.va.us/police</a>.