Most Wanted List working for police

Steven Bushong

They’re elusive and wanted, and now they’re on an Internet-based billboard: Portage County’s 10 Most Wanted.

The list went live about a year ago. And from it, fugitives such as 22-year-old Christopher M. Ball, who was charged with attempted possession of drugs and is wanted to stand trial, stare into cyberspace for all to see.

The courts issued a warrant for Ball’s arrest in December 2006 after he failed to appear for a hearing. He’s been anonymous since.

By law, Ball is assumed innocent, but Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley said that verdict cannot be determined until he’s been tried.

“We’re not out to punish people. We’re out to enforce the laws,” Kaley said. “And when people fail to appear, which is what these are for, then it’s our job to go out and find them and bring them back into the system.”

Traditionally, finding someone means tracking them — sometimes as far as Florida, Kaley said — which is time consuming and costly. The 10 Most Wanted List, when it works, can save resources.

“It’s what I call a freebie,” Kaley said.

Kaley’s only expense is the time it takes two deputies to update the list twice a month. The deputies take a couple hours to research and create the document, and they then post it to the Portage County Web site.

The list is rarely printed and posted because the Internet allows for updating. The public can be notified when someone is caught.

The list has been successful so far, Kaley said. Generally, authorities find two to four fugitives from each list. Sometimes, those at large turn themselves in, and other times it’s a neighbor.

“The public is such a great tool when you’re trying to investigate crime,” Kaley said. “A lot of them are civic-minded and they look on (the Web site) and they say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen that guy — he’s staying over here.'”

Those pictured on the Portage County’s 10 Most Wanted List are not necessarily the most dangerous or mischievous people in Portage County — 28-year-old Kendra M. Smith is wanted for receiving stolen property. Because Kaley wants people to frequent the list, the faces in the pale blue boxes often change.

The process for determining who appears on the list is subjective. Kaley said the department tries to keep it to felons and those who dabble in drugs, as trafficking is a problem in the county and country as a whole.

In neighboring Summit County, its 10 most wanted stay on the list until they’re caught, Sheriff Detective Robert Ondecker said. People charged with kidnapping, drug manufacturing and felonious assault comprise the list. He said Summit County has an 80 percent capture rate.

Kaley said if a person was charged with a major crime in Portage County, he or she would stay on his list, too.

Despite the lists’ differences, they both originate from the same place.

In the late 1940s, a newspaper reporter asked the FBI for a list of its most wanted people. According to the FBI Web site, when the story finally ran, its public appeal was so great that then Director J. Edgar Hoover began a program in the story’s footsteps.

Today, Jorge Alberto Lopez-Orozco, wanted in the murder of two young boys and their mother, and Usama Bin Laden (sic) grace the top of the national 10 Most Wanted List. They’ll also stay there until caught.

On Portage County’s list, several of the offenders have appeared more than once, but with several hundred people wanted by the county, there will never be a lack of mug shots.

“I was just finding another way to try and make our unit more effective in initiating arrests,” Kaley said.

Contact assistant news editor Steven Bushong at [email protected].