"I consider it to be deputizing the public ... and we'd like to do it again."
It's what Lycoming County Sheriff Mark Lusk and District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt have said of the success of publishing Lycoming County's "Most Wanted" fugitive list.
In July, the Sun-Gazette partnered with law enforcement to create a special publication featuring 200 of the county's "most wanted" fugitives.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Lycoming County District Attorney Eric Linhardt, left, and county Sheriff Mark Lusk talk about the effect of “Lycoming County’s Most Wanted,” a special section printed in the Sun-Gazette in July 2010, highlighting locals wanted by law enforcement.
These men and women - featured in an insert July 31 - committed a variety of dangerous crimes as well failed to show up for probation and court appearances.
Since the publication was printed, 80 of the 200 fugitives have been apprehended, a 40-percent success rate.
"The magazine worked because it is the responsibility of the district attorney's office personnel to hold criminals accountable," Linhardt said.
Every day, defendants are brought before the court to face the consequences of their criminal conduct, but rather than face them, some criminals run from the law and become fugitives.
They can and do pose a serious risk to the safety of law-abiding citizens, he said.
"When officers hit a small community with several armed men and women in a fugitive task force unit the word quickly gets out: 'We mean business,'" Lusk said.
The tab enlightened readers to those committing crime, failing to pay fines and restitution and skipping on child support.
"It's the bone," Lusk said for his deputies to work on these cases along with partnering with detectives and the U.S. Marshal's Service.
Some of the crimes, such as violation of domestic relations, may sound insignificant, but they are anything but that, Lusk said.
"We have deadbeat parents and it is their responsibility to protect their children," he said. If they are not held financially accountable, they make their children and loved ones vulnerable," he added.
The size and scope of the daily round up of fugitives remains significant.
The success didn't happen without coordination among the district attorney office, including Chief County Det. William Weber who fielded many of the calls, sheriff's deputies, adult probation, domestic relations and cost clerks.
Granted, some of the men and women depicted in the publication have turned themselves in, and that was just fine with Lusk and Linhardt.
But many others were collared by callers.
"They would say, 'I know that guy, he is a co-worker,'" Lusk said. "It got the public involved in a big way."
Those who call the hot-line or local law enforcement agencies with the slightest information are helping more than they may realize, Lusk said.
Finally, the authorities said the success was such they would like to prepare another magazine for the spring or summer months.
About 1,500 fugitives are wanted on active bench warrants ordered by county judges and another 500 on warrants from the district judges.
"A lot of these fugitives would not have been caught without the tips we received from the public who read the most wanted tab," Linhardt said.