They're flashy displays of ad space, but it turns out electronic billboards are also playing a big role in catching some of the area's most notorious crooks.
"They're used for the worst of the worst, and they allow us to expand exponentially our arm and outreach to the community," Tampa Police Captain David Goodman said Monday.
That outreach is proving powerful. Just Monday morning, Tampa police were tipped off on the location of accused sexual predator Christopher Jones. That tipster called after seeing Jones' face plastered on a fugitive billboard.
Tampa police also credit one of 30 signs for helping snag Demetrius Parks, the accused gunman in the murder of a Family Dollar manager, back in July.
A billboard helped solve one of St. Petersburg's most infamous crimes. A tipster recognized a sample of the suspect's handwriting included on the sign. It was that of her handyman, Oba Chandler.
"She actually had a receipt that he had given her for the receipt of sale and she saw the handwriting matched," St. Petersburg Police's Mike Puetz said Monday.
Chandler was later convicted and executed for the murder of a mother and her two daughters back in 1989. Police say Chandler raped them and dumped their bodies in the bay.
"It was the key to closing the case. If we hadn't got that information out and someone hadn't seen it, we wouldn't have identified Oba Chandler as the suspect in this case," Puetz said.
Police say the signs are generally a last resort...a giant plea to the public to extend their reach into the nooks and crannies of every neighborhood.
"We're a community of just under 400,000 people. We have just under 1,000 officers. So again, this is just another example of the community helping us, being our eyes and ears," Goodman said.
Generally, billboard space is donated to law enforcement agencies by companies, like Clear Channel. In fact, that company donated dozens of billboards all across the Southeast to help with the manhunt for Dontae Morris, the man later convicted of killing two Tampa police officers.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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