By Tim Evans, USA TODAY
Crime fighting doesn't get much simpler than this: When Virginia drug suspect Edward Myricks eyed his photo on a giant digital billboard, he knew his run from the authorities was over.
"We posted his photo on billboards in Newark (after learning the suspect had traveled there), and when he saw the billboards he turned himself in on March 11," Chris Allen, an FBI
The FBI's use of digital billboards to help capture elusive criminals has expanded from a one-city test in 2007 to a growing network that now covers more than 40 states this year. Allen says the billboards can be directly tied to solving 35 cases in the past two years.
"It is a real force multiplier," Allen says. "We can put 10 agents on a case. But when we put information on a billboard, all of a sudden we have 500,000 sets of eyes looking for what we are looking for."
The FBI also credits the billboard project with leading to the apprehension of serial bank robber Chad Schaffner, who was captured in September after he was featured on billboards in several Southeastern states. Last month, he pleaded guilty to a robbery spree in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana and Illinois.
The number of cases solved with the help of digital billboards is probably higher than 35 because tipsters don't always mention where they saw information about a suspect, Allen says.
"That is a remarkable number of cases solved," he says. "It outpaces the Internet and rivals (the TV show) America's Most Wanted
in the ability to help us make arrests."
Outdoor advertising companies, including Clear Channel Outdoor
, Adams Outdoor Advertising and Lamar Advertising Co., donate billboard space to the FBI, Allen says.
There are about 1,800 digital billboards across the USA, Golimowski says. Although that represents fewer than 1% of about 450,000 billboards in America, he says many of those signs are in highly populated areas.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has a similar plan with the Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia, which also is partnering with the FBI, says the billboard association's Executive Director Conner Poe.
Some local law enforcement agencies have forged partnerships with local companies, such as the Janesville, Wis., Police Department and Lamar Advertising, which operates about a half-dozen digital billboards there.
Evans reports for The Indianapolis Star