Florida sheriff seeks out suspects with ‘Wheel of Fugitive’

Florida sheriff seeks out suspects with 'Wheel of Fugitive'

ORLANDO, Fla. — Every Tuesday at 8 p.m. it’s time for “Wheel of Fugitive” in Brevard County, Florida.

Flashy video graphics shoot across the sheriff’s department’s Facebook page, accompanied by a rock soundtrack and an image of a spinning roulette wheel bedecked with 10 fugitives’ mugshots. Smiling, portly and bespectacled Sheriff Wayne Ivey spins the wheel and, presto — this week’s fugitive is singled out for attention.

For the past 18 months, Ivey has targeted one fugitive for arrest each week with the spin of the large green wheel, in the brief videos posted to his agency’s Facebook page .

“Just do the right thing, turn yourself and we certainly appreciate it,” he said in a recent episode. “We’ll see you next time on Wheel of Fugitive.”

He says the humorous, game-show approach has been successful. Many of the pictured fugitives have been turned in via tips from the public and some have turned themselves in, he says.

“We want for them to do the right thing and turn themselves in,” Ivey said. “A number of them have, a number of their family turns them in. Usually within a very short period of time their inner circle has alerted them to the fact if they didn’t see it that they are on ‘Wheel of Fugitive.'”

Ivey says the concept has been well received in the community of about 600,000. He judges the response by the number of Facebook comments and shares and also by the comments he receives when out doing public speaking.

“Hardly any place I go speak or I’m at somebody doesn’t say, “I watch the ‘Wheel of Fugitive,'” Ivey said. “They see the value of not only trying to get the fugitive off the street but engaging the community in doing so.”

Ivey said he initially rolled out the idea of the “Wheel of Fugitive,” inspired by the popular game show “Wheel Fortune,” during a speech to the publicly shortly after he took over as sheriff in 2012. The idea got a warm reception.

Initially, the department offered what it called “Turn Them in Tuesday.” Each week the department presented a single fugitive’s picture and asked the public for its help in pursing him or her. Ivey says his fugitive division saw an 88 per cent success rate in removing fugitives from the streets with that approach.

He believes “Wheel of Fugitive” has a chance to be just as successful — maybe more. The fugitive division is currently working with the University of Central Florida’s sociology department to compile the success rates for the current program. They should be available around May, Ivey said.

“The reason we believe in it is because for ‘Turn Them In Tuesday’ we were only showing one photograph, but with ‘Wheel of Fugitive’ we show all 10 fugitives before picking one,” Ivey said.

“Wheel of Fugitive” hasn’t just captured attention locally, but has also gained national exposure. Recently Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” made fun of Ivey and his wheel. Ivey, who prides himself on his sense humour, didn’t mind being a punchline on the comedy show because of the attention it brought to what his department is doing to remove criminals from the streets.

“The fact that Wheel of Fugitive is being viewed that much and shared that much that it reached that level tells you the engagement we are getting in an audience,” he said. “That’s what we want. We want the community to be engaged and to help protect the community.”

Terrance Harris, The Associated Press

Canadian Press

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