The Marion County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Sheriff Chris Blair’s request for $64,060 to purchase 20 new crime prevention kiosks.
The kiosk program is fully funded by the county’s Crime Prevention Fund, which draws its money from fines only.
“[The kiosk program has] been an integral part in crime fighting, getting notices out to citizens when there is pertinent information to get out there [and] also public service announcements,” Commissioner Kathy Bryant told WUFT in a phone interview. “So we feel like supporting this program is a win-win for our community.”
The kiosks are five-and-a-half-feet-tall displays with three separate screens on each. They’re strategically placed in high-traffic businesses, such as fast-food restaurants, chain retailers and convenience stores. In the addition, the county’s six Wal-Marts have two kiosks each.
Each screen contains information about missing persons, public-service announcements, sex offenders and crime suspects.
The county started the kiosk program in 2014 by unveiling 100 of them at an initial cost of $300,000. Twenty-seven more have been added since then but prior to Tuesday’s addition of 20, which brings the overall total to 147.
The units cost $2,670 each, and there are additional upkeep costs for data and licensing charges, which were included in the sheriff’s funding requests.
Marion County is not alone in installing kiosks, which can now be found in businesses in 18 Florida counties.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi awarded the Marion County Sheriff’s office with the Crime Prevention Tool of Year award in 2014, and the National Association of Counties awarded the office with a national achievement award in 2015.
The kiosks are achieving their purposes, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Of the 288 wanted subjects who have appeared on the kiosks, 56 percent — or 162 — of them were eventually taken into custody, the sheriff’s office said in a release. In addition, roughly 94 percent of the missing persons featured on the kiosks, including missing children and missing or endangered adults, were eventually located.
“Every single runaway in Marion County, we put them up there,” said Paul Bloom, a crime prevention officer and the kiosk program’s coordinator. “Sometimes, somebody’s got a child staying at their house, but they don’t know this child is a runaway. They think it’s just a friend staying the night.”
The kiosks display all types of crimes, Blair said.
“We had success in solving a homicide case last year off the kiosk,” he told WUFT Wednesday. “As recently as last week, we were able to solve a theft case. Basically an individual was stealing from Wal-Mart and then returned to another location of Wal-Mart and was taken into custody.”
Using kiosks to find criminals is nothing new, Blair said, but the technology on them is. He said he would post Styrofoam kiosks with pictures of criminals in the Paddock Mall in Ocala on a daily basis in the 1980s.
“I just knew there had to be a better way with quicker turnaround time and man hours saved by trying to get the information out to the community and then put it back to us so that we could get [suspects] off the street,” said Blair, who is credited with starting the kiosk program in the county.
Debbie Bakos, who works for First Avenue National Bank and is the chairman of Crime Stoppers for Marion County, said just the presence of the kiosks deters criminals from coming into the businesses that have them.
“If the kiosk is in the store and you’re the criminal approaching the door, you are going to think twice before you enter that establishment,” she said, “because the chances of someone seeing your face, matching you up and getting you arrested are much greater.”