Using digital screens for Amber Alerts is getting increasingly common, and now that premise is being extended in the US to posters for people the police are trying to pick up.
Between ads for hamburgers and liposuction, the giant digital billboards flashed an image of Oscar Finch’s face taken by a surveillance camera. The young man wasn’t selling anything. He was running from police.
Finch, a suspect in a bank robbery, was in custody just a day later, and police say his swift capture is an example of how the eye-catching electronic signs can be used as a 21st century version of the Wild West wanted poster.
“We had been looking for this individual for 10 days and turned it around in 24 hours,” said Mobile police spokeswoman Nancy Johnson. “So we’re thinking it’s going to be highly effective. I think it’s a great asset for us.”
Authorities across the country are also using the technology to search for missing children and to warn the public in emergencies.
Twelve billboards showed a grainy mugshot of Finch taken during the Nov. 20 heist. The image, which was mixed in with commercial ads, included his name, his alleged offense and a phone number to contact police.
The 21-year-old Finch, who was the first suspect featured on an electronic billboard in Mobile, turned himself in on Dec. 1, just a day after his photo was posted. He apparently surrendered after seeing news coverage of the billboards, Johnson said.
With digital billboards, police can now display a suspect’s face to thousands of people, sometimes almost immediately after a crime is reported.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.