Home > Features > Indiana’s Most Wanted
Indiana’s Most Wanted
Local law enforcement and TEK Interactive take the fight against crime online
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
On any given day, there are literally thousands of active warrants in Allen County. The charges range from public intoxication and missed court dates to domestic battery and armed robbery. Local law enforcement relies on the general public’s help to track down, arrest, or clear up these thousands of suspects. But until recently, only a handful of “Allen County’s Most Wanted” ever made it in front of the public eye, via some local papers and Crime Stoppers spots on television.
Indiana’s Most Wanted (www.indianasmostwanted.com) puts all of Allen County’s active warrants online, in an easily navigable, easily accessible free website. The result of a collaboration between the Sheriff’s Department and TEK Interactive, Indiana’s Most Wanted lets the public check out all the outstanding warrants in the county, complete with the vitals of all the suspects — name, date of birth, height, weight, hair/eyes, race, distinguishing marks, etc. — the charges against them, and, in the majority of the cases, a photograph. It provides a link and contact information to the Allen County Sheriff’s Department and Crime Stoppers. The object behind Indiana’s Most Wanted was to keep it simple, and the site is about as straightforward as it can be. The public can peruse warrants alphabetically, or run specific names; there’s no password or login required.
Indiana’s Most Wanted made its debut 2001, and the site took off like gangbusters. The site is built and maintained by TEK Interactive, a website design and e-commerce service provider company that has donated websites to several local safety and law enforcement organizations. Dan Turkette, a co-founder of TEK Interactive, says he wanted a place online where the public could peruse warrants. “The original motivator was to just help the Sheriff’s Department catch the bad guys,” Turkette says. “It has since evolved into something bigger.”
Much bigger. The numbers from just last year alone are staggering — over 700,000 visitors, just for Allen County. “We’re averaging about 2500 visitors a day right now, so we’re on track to do almost a million visitors this year,” Turkette says.
As a direct result of leads generated from the Indiana’s Most Wanted website last year, there were 1600 captures or warrants that were eliminated. So far this year, the site has generated 2,521 tips, 1,400 going to the Sheriff’s Department, the rest to Crime Stoppers. “We have had, to date, almost double the captures of America’s Most Wanted,” says Turkette. “Of course, a lot of them are just bounced checks. It’s not all murderers, rapists, and child molesters…”
Turkette provides the site as a free service, and says he wants to keep it that way. Early discussions about a possible revenue model for Indiana’s Most Wanted were thrown out almost immediately. “That’s just defeating the purpose of having the good guys help find the bad guys,” Turkette says, adding that in the wake of the terrorist attacks four years ago, many law enforcement departments all across the country are short on funds, with attention turned towards homeland security issues.
The site is updated every 24 hours. The Sheriff’s Department (who holds the warrants) uses a database-driven operating system called the Spillman system to manage the warrants. Each night, Indiana’s Most Wanted does an automatic dump of the Sheriff Department’s database, getting rid of all the warrants that have been cleaned up that day, and adding the new ones.
It seems like a pretty simple idea. The Sheriff’s Department has always relied on the help of the public in tracking down suspects with warrants out for their arrest. Why not put the warrants in an easily accessible place for the public to check out at leisure? But surprisingly, the means for getting this sort of information in front of the public eye was pretty limited. “Every Sunday in the Journal Gazette and every Saturday in the News Sentinel, they would publish eight people that were wanted, and that was the extent to getting the five or six thousand warrants out there taken care of,” Turkette says. “I don’t know how effective that really is.”
Lieutenant Mike Keesler is in charge of the Warrants and Fugitives Division of the Sheriff’s Department. Keesler says that before the site was up, there wasn’t much of a resource for tracking down people who were wanted. There was the successful Crime Stoppers program, but he says that was originally designed for people to report details or possible leads about specific crimes, not necessarily to report the whereabouts of a wanted person. “Prior to this, we would put eight photos in the daily paper, and those would be our Crime Stoppers wanted people,” Keesler says. “So, we would get phone calls, people call in tips, or stopping local law enforcement they saw, and ask if Johnny had a warrant, and that’s how it went. This has been much more effective.”
Gregory Lewis, Director of Crime Stoppers, agrees, saying that Indiana’s Most Wanted has “doubled or tripled” Crime Stoppers productivity. “This thing, to me, is one of the greatest tools I’ve ever seen in crime fighting, and I was a policeman for over 30 years,” he says. “Anyone in the state of Indiana, anyone anywhere, can look at not only who has warrants, but you can see a photograph of that person. Without this, how is the average citizen going to realize who has got a warrant and who doesn’t, unless they see one of eight pictures we put in the newspaper once a week?”
“Most people in this community are good people,” Lewis continues. “You’re looking at 6,700 active warrants. Well, there’re 350,000 people in this county. That’s telling me a lot of people are pretty good people, and they’ll use this to turn suspects in. And it works. Believe me it works. I’ve got the numbers to prove it.”
Well, yes, we are good citizens here in Allen County. Of course, if you think Indiana’s Most Wanted sounds like the perfect means to get some sort of second-hand revenge on exes, former employers, or anyone you think is a jerk… well, depending on the degree of faith you hold in human nature, it’ll either be depressing or validating to find that, yes, quite a number of leads generated from the site have a vindictive motive.
“When you first visited the site, who did you run?” Keesler asks. “You ran friends, family, and relatives, just like everyone else. So, if you have a grudge against somebody…
“It’s been… almost entertaining,” Keesler adds. “Some of the leads have been vulgar. Some are actually kind of clever.”
Turkette and the people at TEK don’t see the leads themselves, though he says that every now and then, someone will click on the informational links to TEK Interactive… “and send us some long Days of Our Lives story about this person they know that has all these warrants out.” But Turkette does hear from people who have used the site, and he’s full of stories, like the one about the bartender at a popular watering spot in town, who spent a little time at Indiana’s Most Wanted and ran across quite a few familiar faces. “He printed out over 20 people with warrants that were all customers of his,” Turkette says. “As they came in, he’d just peel through the list and go “oh, here ya go. You have a warrant out for your arrest.’ I think there were 27 of them.”
Turkette laughs. “Almost everyone I’ve ever told about the site has come back to me the very next day and said ‘my God, you would not believe the number of people I found on there that I know!’ And I say ‘well, who are you hanging with?’”
The ranks of visitors to Indiana’s Most Wanted include more than just concerned citizens — or jilted boyfriends/girlfriends out for revenge. Businesses use it as a tool to screen potential employees, and landlords use it for background checks. “We even had an apartment complex e-mail us,” Turkette says. “They had a guy fill out an application, and they just happened to be poking around our site and found him that day. He had a warrant out for his arrest. They picked up the phone while he was sitting in the outer office and called the cops.”
Lieutenant Keesler explains that the police proceed very carefully with any information they receive from Indiana’s Most Wanted, because they could be set up, too. “It’s called ‘lead information’,” Keesler says. “In other words, it heads us in a different direction. We do a little more research, talk to some neighbors, run some plates, maybe even rummage through the trash for a bill with the guy’s name on it. When we have enough info that gives us reasonable belief that the guy lives there, then we press ahead.”
According to Keesler, the only real criticism the Sheriff’s Department receives about the site is from families. “Obviously, some families don’t like the idea that Johnny has his picture online, and my response is ‘well, if you would let us know where Johnny is, or better yet, have him turn himself in, this could all go away.’ That’s how we handle that. And I understand that. It’s embarrassing.” Keesler adds that usually if a suspect is picked up in the morning, he’ll get a call later in the day asking why the warrant is still online, and he has to explain that the system usually takes a little time. “We certainly couldn’t do it ongoing. It would be a nightmare for TEK.”
The Sheriff’s Department hasn’t had any trouble about anyone “taking the law in to their own hands.” Disclaimers on the site warn the public about approaching any of the people with warrants.
So far, Allen County is the only county with its warrants online. Gregory Lewis says its probably a matter of money — everyone’s budget is pretty tight — but adds that other counties don’t know what they’re missing. When he first saw Indiana’s Most Wanted, he thought other counties would join in soon. “Well, here we are four years later, and we’re still the only county that’s got this. I’m thinking, ‘folks, you better get on board,’” he says. “I have people calling me at Crime Stoppers and say ‘Do you know if Joe Blow from Kokomo is wanted here in Grant County?’ Well, I don’t know. I have to get on the phone… it takes time. Whereas if Grant County had this, I could find out in seconds, get a message to the Sheriff’s Department in Grant County, and get the guy off the streets.”
Actually, Dan Turkette is already making plans to include all of Indiana’s 92 counties on the site. “We just recently decided to take it on a state-wide level, and make sure all the sheriffs know it’s out there and it’s free,” he says. “If they don’t have an extra machine laying around as a firewall, we’ll even buy one and put one in for them. Other than the town Andy Griffith grew up in, I’m sure every town in the state is close to being computerized.”
After that, Turkette doesn’t see any reason why they can’t take the site national. “Our intention is to give each state its own unique identity, its own unique URL that people will be able to go to.”