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“Wanted” Billboards Reveal Two Big Lessons

Date: December 01, 2014

It’s not just billboards. Bus shelters and other OOH locations also help.

In the Old West, outlaws often found themselves the subjects of wanted posters nailed to posts and trees.

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and the same idea is helping law enforcement track down fugitives … but the wanted posters are likely to be billboards along a busy highway.

In June 2002, 19-year-old Ali Kemp was working at a neighborhood pool in Leawood, Kan., a suburb in the Kansas City metropolitan area. It was a cool day, and Ali was alone.

Someone assaulted her and beat her to death. The case outraged the city and devastated her family.

Her father, Roger Kemp, seeking a way to catch his daughter’s killer, contacted the local Lamar Advertising Co. office to ask about the cost of a billboard with the police sketch of the suspect and his truck. Upon hearing the story – and seeing the anguish in the father’s eyes – Vice President Bob Fessler and Creative Director Brian Henry offered to provide billboard space at no cost.

During the next two years, hundreds of tips from viewers of the billboards poured in to the local Crime Stoppers tip line. Two of those tips eventually led to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

That success led to a groundbreaking local partnership. Photos of murder suspects would appear on donated billboards featuring the TIPS Hotline of the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers. Results were immediate; within a month of the posting the first billboard, the featured suspect was behind bars.

 It’s not just billboards. Bus shelters and other OOH locations also help.

Over the ensuing years, these billboards have led to the arrests of more than 20 people wanted for murder. The success was so striking that it caught the attention of other law-enforcement agencies, out-of-home advertisers, other U.S. and international Crime Stoppers programs and major news outlets.

The Kemp case taught everyone involved important lessons. The first lesson was frequency of the message. Repeated viewings over an extended period broke the case. Both successful tipsters told call takers they had seen the billboard many times before they became confident their information was potentially useful. That concept still holds true for the fugitive “wanted” signs.

A second lesson learned was that the emphasis on the anonymous aspect of calling in a tip to Crime Stoppers was a crucial and deciding factor in getting citizens to report their information.

The idea of using billboards for help with a specific crime wasn’t new, but using them as ongoing regularly scheduled wanted posters was innovative. The idea spread and is being used nationwide, including by the FBI.

In Kansas City, the current Crime Stoppers coordinator says there is hunger for information about how this partnership started and how it works.

“I still get requests from other agencies around the country, asking about our program,” says Kansas City Detective Kevin Boehm.

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