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Cities across the USA are reviving the wanted posters of the Old West, supersizing them on billboards to catch criminals.
Since February 2004, Kansas City, Mo., has erected 10 billboards with the names and photos of fugitives wanted for murder, along with a phone number for anonymous tips and the lure of cash rewards. Eight of the 10 have been captured, says Sgt. Craig Sarver of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission, and "seven of those eight have been related directly to the tips from the billboards."
He says they work because so many people see them, often several times a day. Wanted billboards are being used in cities from Philadelphia to Yakima, Wash.
Officials in Charlotte installed their first ones Monday. One goes up next week in Queens, N.Y.
Some lawyers fear the billboards' effect on trials.
Barbara Bergman, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, says they could influence potential jurors or change witnesses' recollections. "It may well impact their memory of the person they actually saw," Bergman says.
Most billboards are in high-traffic areas. Advertising companies usually donate part or all of the cost.
Phoenix, Detroit and several other cities have teamed with TV's America's Most Wanted and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America to put up billboards, says the OAAA's Ken Klein. America's Most Wanted presents the cases on its show or website and takes phone tips. Host John Walsh says he's "absolutely amazed" by the billboards' success.
Dallas erected its first wanted billboard Dec. 29, says Kurt Hibbets of the U.S. Marshals Service. The suspect, wanted for murder and aggravated robbery in November 2004, turned himself in Jan. 11.
After a Yakima County, Wash., jailbreak Nov. 25, seven inmates were caught quickly. Two who remained on the lam were shown on a billboard and were in custody by mid-December. "If you have a bad guy on the loose out here, people need to know what he looks like," says Police Chief Sam Granato.
February 3, 2006
More U.S. cities using billboards to catch crooks