Cable TV Rounds Up Suspects Success Of County’s ‘Crime Line’ Has City Police Reconsidering Participation
It may not be “Dragnet,” but a Spokane County cable TV program has become a fast and easy way for police officers to track down wanted criminals and suspects.
Viewers of the show have helped sheriff’s deputies arrest 34 of the 78 people whose run-ins with the law have been featured on the program.
Called “Crime Line,” the 30-minute program runs four times a day on Cox Cable Spokane’s Channel 27.
It has no host and no fancy production values. It provides just the names and photos of people suspected of committing crimes or convicted felons who’ve violated their sentences, such as court orders to pay restitution or go through drug treatment.
Viewers seeing someone they recognize can call a telephone number to turn in the suspect.
Callers have identified people just down the street, or several hundred miles away.
“We had one caller tell how to find a suspect now living in Alaska,” said Regina Winkler, coordinator of Cox Cable Channel 27.
The program was started in November with the help of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department.
Winkler offered the service first to the Spokane Police Department, which declined because it didn’t have a staff person to handle the work.
But now city police are rethinking that decision and may soon launch a bad-guys-on-cable service of their own.
“It’s really exceeded our expectations,” said Winkler. With no promotion, “Crime Line” draws about five calls a day from around the Spokane area, she said.
The 43 percent capture rate is already higher than those of a similar program in Bellingham. That city’s success has been about 33 percent.
Last fall, Winkler heard of similar programs across the country and decided to try it here.
The only cost to taxpayers is the five hours per week spent by sheriff’s Deputy Tom Mattern to collect the information and photographs used on the program.
Both police and sheriff’s deputies want to avoid confusing “Crime Line” with the Secret Witness program.
Secret Witness uses broadcast TV and the newspaper to get information on wanted crime suspects. It offers rewards and lets callers provide information anonymously.
“Crime Line,” which repeats its listings more often than Secret Witness, offers no reward.
Mattern said it’s effective because citizens want to get involved and probably get a kick out of snitching.
“Some of the people calling are doing payback to a person they befriended and then wish they hadn’t,” he said.
Other callers are ex-spouses, neighbors or co-workers who are channel-surfing and spot a familiar face.
“We’ve also had maybe six people who saw themselves and decided they didn’t want to see their faces plastered all over the place,” Mattern said.
One was Kory Dean York, who was convicted of forgery and then skipped on efforts to pay back money he stole.
He called to say he didn’t want his mother seeing his name on TV, Mattern said. York eventually turned himself in.
Another arrest last week occurred when Shari Lee Ohge called the Sheriff’s Department to complain her picture didn’t belong on “Crime Line.”
Deputies ran a records check and learned that Ohge was wanted for warrants issued to the alias she uses - Shari Shreve. They produced two warrants, including one for not appearing in court on a charge of selling cocaine.
Before police do their own version, they’ll decide how much work the program will require, said spokesman Dick Cottam.
Another concern is city liability. If a person is listed as wanted but has already resolved all legal problems, the city could be sued for negligence, he said.
Mattern said the county deals with potential liability with a disclaimer before each show saying not every person may still be wanted by authorities.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Caught by ‘Crime Line’
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE AIR “Crime Line” runs at 9 a.m., 3 and 6:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Cox Cable Channel 27. A modern version of the old post office wanted board, it has the potential of reaching about 90,000 homes a week, the cable company estimates.
This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE AIR “Crime Line” runs at 9 a.m., 3 and 6:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Cox Cable Channel 27. A modern version of the old post office wanted board, it has the potential of reaching about 90,000 homes a week, the cable company estimates.