FBI: Digital billboards have helped capture 14 scoundrels

It' been a year since the FBI fired up about 20 digital billboards around Philadelphia with blunt warnings like: "Rob a corner store with a gun in Philadelphia; you could get 25 years in prison."

The FBI today reports that it now has four partners, Clear Channel, Adams Outdoor, Lamar Advertising, and the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia providing access to more than 1,000 digital billboards nationwide.

According to the FBI, the billboards have led directly to the capture of at least 14 fugitives, plus many more indirectly through publicity the billboards generate.

The agency cites some high profile examples of the billboards at work:

  • 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: Michael Jason Registe on July 28 and Edward Eugene Harper on November 29.
  • 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.

The billboards have ignited protests in some areas where detractors say the giant screens are an eyesore and a distraction to drivers.

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