Digital Billboards One Year Later
What a Difference a Year Makes
For years we’ve prominently posted wanted fugitives and missing persons here on our website for all the world to see…and enlisted the help of the news media in spreading the word about them far and wide.
Still, when we were approached in 2007 by an exec from Clear Channel Outdoor who offered to provide space on their collection of digital billboards nationwide to help catch crooks and rescue kidnapped kids—as a public service—we jumped at the chance.
And why not. The exposure on the highways and byways of America’s big cities delivers lots of eyeballs. And as our Public Affairs Assistant Director John Miller says, “These are not your father’s billboards.” That’s right: they are digitized. And like a computer screen, they can be changed at a moment’s notice—quite handy when time is of the essence and you’re searching for that missing teen or dangerous felon.
And so, just over a year ago, we joined with Clear Channel in launching the digital billboard initiative in 20 cities across the country. Since then, we’ve added three more partners: Adams Outdoor, Lamar Advertising, and the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia. That gives us access to more than 1,000 digital billboards nationwide today.
So what has a year wrought? Most importantly, the billboards have led directly to the capture of at least 14 fugitives, plus many more indirectly through our overall publicity efforts. And all at essentially no cost to the American taxpayer.
Here are just a few of the ways we’ve successfully tapped into the digital billboards with our partners:
- On November 12, 2008, Richard Franklin Wiggins, Jr. was arrested for money laundering and for ties to a drug trafficking organization—just three weeks after both Lamar Advertising and Adams Outdoor ran his image on their digital billboards in the Norfolk, Virginia area. Wiggins reportedly turned himself in at the insistence of his family and friends.
- On October 24, 2008, Walter Haskell was arrested for an armed robbery in New Jersey that he had committed several months earlier. After the robbery, he fled to Minnesota. His image was plastered on digital billboards across the state, generating tips that led to his apprehension. “If we have a crack at over a quarter-million people seeing that photo every day, then we have a very good chance at catching the person we’re after,” said Special Agent Sean Quinn, a spokesman for the FBI in Newark. “The exposure gets us started.”
- Our digital billboard partners activated their networks on short notice when we announced two additions last year to our Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list: Edward Eugene Harper on November 29. on July 28 and
- On November 9, 2008, Christopher Ellis was apprehended for a multi-state crime spree that included a bank robbery in Kentucky, a kidnapping and carjacking in Georgia, and a home invasion in Tennessee. Our partners placed a photo of Ellis and the truck he was driving on billboards in multiple states across the region. The publicity generated by the digital billboards contributed to a larger campaign which generated the tip that led to his arrest.
Long story short: the billboards are working and working well. And that means a safer America for all.