By Chris Kramer
Public announcement of criminals has become more the norm since the rise of the Internet, as law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, can more easily and cheaply publish information. The sex offenders registry, for example, has transformed from a phone-book-style list to an interactive satellite map.
Los Angeles County has created a different sort of database, modeled after the FBI Top 10 Most Wanted list. Their version goes after so-called "deadbeat dads," or more specifically, the "most egregious" child-support-payment evaders, as the Los Angeles Times reports. In a nod to Post Office mug posters, the sheriff's office will be placing physical posters around the county as well.
All told, the ten men listed as the top ten evaders owe more than $2 million in back child support for 17 children. Individually, their past-due amounts range from $63,000 to $427,000. One of the top 10 was already arrested thanks to a tip, and will be forced to face the nearly $300,000 that he owes in child support.
The poster effort is one part of a countywide crackdown on child-support-payment evaders. Since it started early last December, a total of 61 evaders have been arrested, and 64 other evaders have been cited. 160 of 1240 outstanding warrants issued by the LA County Sheriff's Office have been cleared, according to the LA Times.
And early financial returns have been encouraging for officers as well. Around $1 million has been collected from the evaders arrested or those who voluntarily turned themselves in. With a 10 percent interest rate on past-due payments, it can be easy to fall behind and easier to stay behind if you've fallen behind on child support payments. But the county is interested primarily in getting the money to where it's needed, and can work with violators to set up payment plans.
The success of the LA County program may encourage other local agencies with child support problems to establish similar programs. And furthermore, the program seems to have accomplished its goals with as limited shaming as possible.
Shaming stunts have rarely been effective in dealing with criminal activity, from colored license plates for DUI offenders to even sex offender registries. Rather than discouraging behavior, such "scarlet letters" tend to marginalize the criminals. For things such as DUI offenses, it can turn a single-albeit serious-mistake into a stigma that can follow a person indefinitely.
These posters, however, are one of the simplest ways that law enforcement agents can get the word out about scofflaws whom they are seeking, and they do so without the "stigma" problem that follow shaming activities because they focus on just the facts.