Digital billboards used in multistate FBI manhunt

Christopher Hall

The FBI recently turned to digital out-of-home to help catch a fugitive.

In an effort to apprehend former U.S. Marine Charles Alan Dyer, the Bureau posted wanted signs in about a dozen states in the South and Southeast, according to Oklahoma News 9 and Houston’s KHOU 11 TV. Dyer was wanted by the FBI in Oklahoma City for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

The use of digital billboards as wanted posters was a novel approach, but not, apparently, a completely new one.

According to Darrin Friskney, director of digital billboard manufacturer Watchfire Digital Outdoor, the digital signs have been used for similar purposes before, and can have significant utility for other public safety messaging.

And while it doesn’t seem that the billboards led to Dyer’s arrest — according to the FBI, a Fort Bend County (Texas) Sheriff’s Deputy questioned a man on foot fitting Dyer’s description before arresting him, and a fingerprint check at the Fort Bend County jail confirmed his identity — they have before.

“The role of digital billboards in public service has been tremendous. In addition to generating tips that have led to the arrest of 41 fugitives sought by the FBI, digital boards have also helped communicate timely emergency messages during extreme weather and helped promote public issues such as Amber Alerts and DUI campaigns,” Friskney said in an email. “Whether the message is public or commercial, there isn’t a better medium for reaching mass audiences with up-to-the-minute information than digital billboards.”

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