60 arrests follow publication of "Wanted"
There's no mistaking that Chris Cusimano was beaming, even though he was on the other end of a telephone call.
"We just went out to lock up No. 50!" Cusimano reported.
Cusimano, the deputy in charge at the Indiana County Sheriff's office Friday afternoon had returned a request for a status report on the 211 fugitives, whose names and photos had been provided for "Indiana County's Wanted," a supplement published Dec. 17 in The Indiana Gazette.
Deputies this week checked Nos. 49 and 50 off their list, he said.
In all, the Gazette's special "Wanted" section profiled nearly 300 people wanted on warrants issued by the Indiana County Common Pleas Court and the four district courts in the county.
The sheriff's office was looking for the vast majority, who had skipped court hearings, violated parole or otherwise placed themselves at the call of the law.
"Wanted," circulated to an estimated 45,000 county residents, asked people to help law enforcement to bring them in.
Indiana Borough police, Blairsville Borough police and the Pennsylvania State Police also placed names of the suspects they wanted for prosecution -- suspects who didn't respond to subpoenas, failed to show up for court dates or had just been named on new criminal charges.
They were looking for fewer people, but noticed new information coming into the police stations soon after the "Wanted" section hit the streets.
"We definitely received calls and they were beneficial to getting some of the warrants served," said Lt. Brad Shields, commander at the state police station in Indiana. "We served 25 percent of the warrants -- eight of the 32, based on the publication."
At the Indiana Borough police station, Sgt. Joe Clement said two of the half-dozen suspects they wanted, both women, were accounted for within three days.
Not all the pinches since Dec. 17 are credited to the suspects' appearances in the "Wanted" section, police said. Routine investigations and unrelated information brought many to light.
Cusimano said some voluntarily surrendered when they learned they were in the spotlight. A couple of fugitives came in and said they didn't know they were wanted until their names appeared in the section. Warrants or summonses had been sent to their former addresses, he said.
While most of the hot leads generated by the publication had cooled within a few days, Cusimano attributed two arrests this week to the publication.
"Frankly, I'm surprised," he said.
One was slow in developing. A tip on one person led to information on another, who was said to be in eastern Pennsylvania.
"We faxed the warrant out, and lo and behold, Lehigh County (sheriff's office) called this morning and said he's sitting in their cell," Cusimano said.
The marketing department at the Gazette won the local law enforcement agencies' support for the "Indiana County's Wanted" supplement in the fall, designing it as a tool to bring fugitives in to have their day in court. Clearing the dockets of warrants would be a public service and enable police departments to focus more on maintaining public safety and order.
To entice public support for the roundup effort, officials made clear that tips would be taken anonymously or without revealing informants' names.
Police were delighted with the response.
"I went to a basketball game and a guy there told me, 'I know one of these guys -- he works next to me at the shop 40 hours a week,'" Clement said.
Indiana Borough police had more calls than fugitives, he said. They referred many callers to the sheriff or state police, who actually held the warrants for the suspects being reported.
"People were more than happy to help," Cusimano said. "And sometimes they were surprised to learn we were looking for their own neighbors, people they knew.
"We had a couple of cases where the dad brought in the son."
Shields said it seems citizens are eager to help when given the chance. The experience with the supplement has state police thinking of starting a Crime Stoppers program and publicizing a "Fugitive of the Week," he said. "We've always thought that if we got the word out, that we could do that."