Fugitives on a Times Square Billboard

January 15, 2010

The FBI announces the use of the Times Square Billboard for posting wanted fugitives and explains the rationale for the strategy and success.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello. I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. Picture Times Square in New York City. Lots of colorful billboards with bright lights and cool pictures. How about a digital billboard showing bad guys; dangerous fugitives?

Mr. Kolko: “Well, the goal is with Times Square being the crossroads of the world, we have thousands and thousands of New Yorkers in there every day, and millions of visitors from every corner of the globe going through Times Square.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s Special Agent Rich Kolko at the FBI’s New York office.

Mr. Kolko: “The FBI across the country, a couple of years ago, started an initiative with Clear Channel outdoor advertising, and then several other outdoor advertising companies followed along. What we're doing is we are posting pictures and information on some of the most wanted fugitives for the FBI. It's a new way of reaching the audience out there. People in their cars, people walking down the street—they look up and you see this colorful billboard, it’s got a big picture on it, it’s got a telephone number, and it's got the crime that some of these people are accused of doing. What we're doing is we've found a new way to get leads, and to engage the public in helping keep their streets safer.

Mr. Schiff: Why Times Square?

Mr. Kolko: “Well, the billboards are strategically placed throughout the country, and people see them in cars, and a certain number of cars go by them each day, or a certain number of people walk by them each day. When you talk about Times Square, you are really talking about the crossroads of the United States, maybe even the crossroads of the world. We have tens of thousands of New Yorkers that are in there every day, but we also have millions of visitors from all around the world that go through Times Square on a yearly basis. So this opens up a whole new set of eyes for us. Well, the goal is to have these people look up and see this billboard, right in the middle of Times Square, see one of these bad guys, pick up the telephone, and call the FBI.”

Mr. Schiff: When you’re talking prime real estate, this is it.

Mr. Kolko: “We are going to have this billboard front and center, and they are going to see FBI fugitives right there, so you don’t know where the person may live, or where the bad guy might be, but this gives the opportunity for everybody to participate in helping get bad guys off the street. They’ll look up and they’ll see the picture and they’ll see the telephone number and they’ll know the crimes this person is accused of, and wherever it is in the world, they can pick up their phone and call the FBI, and hopefully that will be the tip we need to help find this fugitive.”

Mr. Schiff: This has been a success elsewhere.

Mr. Kolko: “Absolutely. The use of the media to help track down fugitives has always been a law enforcement tool. Whether it is newspapers, television, this is just one more step in that process, a new way of doing it on these digital billboards. We are hoping that this will continue to be a success. Several dozen people have already been caught, directly by having their picture on these billboards.”

Mr. Schiff: Some 30 fugitives have been captured thanks to more a thousand billboards around the country and citizens recognizing these guys and calling police or the FBI. We asked Kolko what a digital billboard looks like.

Mr. Kolko: “We are all used to driving down the road and seeing the billboards that have advertisements on them, but usually they were static. It was a drape or a painting that would stay exactly the same for as many months as that advertising contract was. What they've gone now to is these digital billboards that are operated off of a computer. So, if we've got a fugitive, whether it’s a fast paced crime, or a long term fugitive, we can simply get on our computer, e-mail that picture to an advertising company, and within a matter minutes, they put it right on that billboard, so it’s immediate availability for the public to start to see this.”

Mr. Schiff: How did this all get started?

Mr. Kolko: “The billboard initiative got started in the (FBI) Philadelphia office when one of our Citizen’s Academy graduates, who worked for Clear Channel, volunteered and offered use of the Clear Channel digital billboard in Philadelphia. They’ve had great success down there, and that’s what helped spread it across the country. So here we have one of these private-public partnerships, basically, our Citizen’s Academy, where we invite community leaders, media folks, business officials, to come into the Citizen’s Academy, learn about the FBI and find a way that we can work together, and this has to be one of the best examples in recent past.”

Mr. Schiff: Now it’s your turn to help law enforcement and clear the streets of dangerous fugitives. If you see a bad guy on a billboard and you know something about them, call the police or the FBI right away. You can help make our country, and our world, safer for everyone. And stop by www.fbi.gov on the Internet. Check out the Most Wanted section; there are hundreds of pictures and information about terrorists and fugitives. That’s our show for this week. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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