FBI retools, updates Most Wanted list


USA TODAY

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Those grainy mug shots, once confined to post office lobbies, are coming to a billboard near you.


(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
The FBI is retooling its Top 10 Most Wanted list into an increasingly multimedia, international appeal for help as it tries to keep its signature program relevant in a crowded media landscape.

"We're trying to exploit every opportunity," FBI spokesman Chris Allen says. The strategy is "probably pretty surprising for a government agency."

Among the changes:

*Launching a billboard campaign. This month, the FBI began featuring top fugitives on billboards in 20 cities.

*Expanding the list's international reach. The FBI is building on its broadcast alliance with the popular America's Most Wanted TV show to solicit tips on similar programs in Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany.

* Posting video. The FBI has video of the most recent sightings of some fugitives on its Top 10 website.

In the billboard deal with Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc., which is donating the space, the FBI will get access to about 150 electronic billboards, Allen says.

In Los Angeles, images of Most Wanted suspect Emigdio Preciado Jr., accused in the attempted murders of two sheriff's deputies, are on display throughout the city.

Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, a suspect in the murder of pregnant Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, is not on the Top 10 list, but his image appears on some billboards.

As of December, 489 fugitives had appeared on the list since it began in 1950. Of those, 458 have been located, at least 150 with citizen help, the FBI says. Agents hunt for an estimated 12,000 fugitives at a time.

Rex Tomb, a former chief of the FBI's investigative publicity unit, says the list reflects the evolving nature of crime. The bureau added Osama bin Laden after the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. "In the 1950s, it was bank robbery," Tomb says. "Now, you see bin Laden up there."

The bureau last year quietly removed accused cop killer Donald Eugene Webb from the Top 10, marking only the sixth time a fugitive was taken off before capture.

"That's pretty valuable real estate, and you have to make sure ... there is going to be a benefit," Tomb says. "Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't."

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