News & Events

News & Events

Digital Billboards Help To Catch Criminals In Rock County

The wanted posters that appear on digital billboards around Janesville have proven to be highly successful at catching criminals.

According to authorities in 2009, Brett Bertrand was hard to catch. The 28-year-old former Janesville resident was wanted on intimidation, false imprisonment and battery charges. But police couldn’t find him, and his family wasn’t cooperating. But after Bertrand’s face was plastered on six digital billboards in the area, tipsters immediately told police Bertrand was in De Pere. He was arrested days later.

Police didn’t know it then, but Bertrand would be the first of 25 consecutive people found after their faces lit up the billboards. The program has a 100 percent success rate.

“We put up three people right away, and when we caught all three people in the first week, I knew this was going to work,” officer Chad Sullivan said.

Janesville Area CrimeStoppers and area law enforcement agencies began using the digital billboards in January 2008 after Lamar Outdoor Advertising offered the advertising space.

Wanted criminals, runaways and lost elderly residents have been found after their pictures were put on the billboards.

“It really fits the CrimeStoppers mission of prevention of crime and the apprehension of criminals,” said Christine Rebout, president of Janesville Area CrimeStoppers. “There really is nowhere to hide in Janesville now.”

Capturing offenders
More than 1,300 people have active warrants in Janesville, Sullivan said. But only a small percentage of suspects make the billboards. People suspected of drug or violent offenses get put on the billboards, Sullivan said. Suspects who live in the area or who might bring in tips also get placed.

A suspect usually is on the signs for a week to a month.

“We try to get the most dangerous, but also people we really want to catch,” Sullivan said. “The goal of the wanted program is to get a wanted person in custody as soon as possible.”

Police hope wanted people turn themselves in, Sullivan said. They often do because they’re embarrassed about their picture on the billboards. One mom even called police to complain about her son’s display.

“Mom didn’t want him on the boards,” Sullivan said. “We said, ‘Well, you have him turn himself in, and we’ll take it off.’ He turned himself in and took care of the warrant.”

Tipsters also help police find their suspects, he said. “We’re looking for information,” Sullivan said. “People know where they are.”

Highly visible
Lamar placed six digital billboards in the Janesville area in July 2007.

The signs are located at the Center Avenue Bridge, Memorial Drive Bridge, Milton Avenue and West Court Street. Two signs are on Highway 14.

“People are driving and looking at these billboards,” Sullivan said. “These billboards are all in highly visible areas.”

About 98,000 people are exposed to the six billboards every day, said Brad Yarmark, General Manager for Lamar Advertising Company.

When advertising space is available, CrimeStoppers can display free messages picturing wanted offenders, Yarmark said.

CrimeStoppers never advertised on regular billboards because it wasn’t worth the time and money, Rebout said. But digital billboards are practical.

And they feature CrimeStoppers messages about 60 percent of the time, Yarmark said.

“Our ability to assist and partner with law enforcement agencies in the cities we serve is really a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “I’m just happy that we can provide a valuable service like this and it seems to be working really well.”

And the billboards draw eyes.

Rebout’s friend put her picture on one billboard to announce her 40th birthday. She received 10 calls. “I was amazed at the response,” she said. “People really do see them.”

The original article ran in 2009 in The Janesville Gazette. Lamar Advertising Company donates space to CrimeStoppers on a regular basis.

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