Clear Channel Outdoor sparks PRAY 4 POLICE, also sees huge success catching bad guys with Wanted Poster billboards

Tom Kennedy

All things work together for good when the right partners coalesce and make a dynamic decision that benefits the good guys.

HPOU found a worthy partner with Clear Channel Outdoor, which runs billboards of various sizes throughout the Greater Houston area and the rest of the nation.

Actually, as the story goes, Clear Channel “found” the Union and its ongoing PRAY 4 POLICE wrist band campaign and helped to develop an idea that has caused the crusade to really take off.

Today’s Digital Era

We’ll let Clear Channel’s Lee Vela, vice president of Public Affairs, tell the exciting story, which reminded Union leaders that the billboard operation works very closely with law enforcement from the FBI on down.

“We put up a memorial board for Deputy Goforth,” Vela told the Badge & Gun, “and right after that happened we saw the story about the wrist bands. I reached out to Doug Griffith at first. We understood that the Union was actually putting this together and we offered something to take it out to the public.

“The Union has this incredible outpouring of support and we finally got together. They did some artwork and we adjusted it a bit and put it up on our digital billboards.”

The only adjustment to the PRAY 4 POLICE urging was to add “and All First Responders.”

The digital billboards have been all over town for a number of weeks now. Well, make that all over the towns outside Houston. For, you see, the city of Houston’s far-reaching billboard ordinance doesn’t allow digital billboards, as ironic as that seems given these circumstances.

“We have 20 digital billboards in this area,” Vela explained, “not in the city of Houston, unfortunately, but throughout Harris County and surrounding counties. The (Houston billboard) ordinance doesn’t allow us to do that just yet. It all comes down to the mayor.”

Digital billboards are truly today’s version of high-tech advertising. Clear Channel Outdoor took some traditional billboards and added the technology that enables multiple messages on the board to change every eight seconds. This means viewers – mostly passing motorists on their way somewhere – view about eight different messages 1,250 times per day.

Griffith attributed a great deal of the PRAY 4 POLICE campaign to the billboards. The effort is truly on a roll.

“When I got the call from them,” said Griffith, the HPOU’s 1st vice president, “they said they were interested in providing these billboards. The response has been truly excellent. It has been a real spark. They asked us what we wanted and included the first responders.

“As soon as Lee contacted me, I was impressed with how quickly he acted. It (the ad) is not there all the time. It rotates out with other stuff.”

Griffith said PRAY 4 POLICE also continues to get great support from the Houston Police Foundation and the 100 Club of Greater Houston. Just lately the 100 Club bought 20,000 wrist bands and foundation purchased 10,000 additional wrist bands and 25,000 window stickers, he said.


Law Enforcement Advantage

Vela said Clear Channel Outdoor uses its approximately 1,200 billboards across the nation to memorialize fallen law enforcement officers during Police Week in May. “We had a full list of 274 officers, whose pictures we put up on digitals throughout the country, including several in the Houston area,” he explained.

Law enforcement, through partnerships with Clear Channel, is able to put out numerous Wanted posters, Amber Alerts and special weather bulletins.

The fact is that it doesn’t take long to develop the necessary artwork and get the messages out in a matter of hours. Vela said the turnaround time for a normal, fixed-picture billboard usually runs about a month.

The success record should clearly demonstrate to Houston city leaders that a change in the billboard ordinance enabling the digitals could serve as yet another crime-fighting tool.

“Every week we put up a picture of a different wanted gang member,” Vela said, saying that sometimes pictures come from the FBI, sometimes from police departments or sheriffs. The wanted fugitives are not limited to gang members, either. “The picture and description are viewed by thousands of people. Out of 171 we’ve done, 140 have been caught. That’s an incredible return!

“This is your Wanted poster but it’s enlarged, instantly up within minutes. Several of those guys turned themselves in because they didn’t want to see their picture up there. That’s the public-shaming part.”

Until this point in the story we have forgotten to mention that public service messages like these are put up free of charge. When calculated in terms of regular rental rates, the benefit seems awesome.

“We run retail ads with our public service messages,” Vela said. “We mix these messages in with the advertising. That’s how we keep the doors open.”

He said one regular revolving digital ad costs $3,500 to $4,000 to run one month on one billboard.

“The flexibility is amazing,” Vela said. “You can change it as often as you want, even running it today only.”

Right now the closest PRAY 4 POLICE billboard rests in Humble, just south of Farm Road 1960 and northeast of Houston. There are others in Jacinto City, Kemah, Sealy, Conroe, League City, La Marque. Four of them are in Pasadena, two on Highway 225.

Vela becomes especially animated when detailing the company’s work with law enforcement agencies. One case in point was a cold serial rapist case in the county. Then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia worked with Vela to put some heat on.


Catching Bad Guys


“We got the two sketches of the guy and alternated them on the boards,” he said. “Within three weeks they caught the guy. Somebody recognized him. That case had been cold for a year and a half.”

Clear Channel campaigned to get Dallas’ billboard ordinance changed three years ago in order to enable digital boards. The company now has 100 inside the Dallas city limits.

Then, referring to Houston, he said, “This the last major market that Clear Channel doesn’t have a major digital footprint inside the city.”

Naturally Vela feels a change in the Houston ordinance would enhance the ability to communicate public safety and law enforcement messages more effectively than ever before.

Vela helped to create what is known as the Gulf Coast Emergency Communications Network made up of four counties with protocols in place “when we have another hurricane.”

He said, “We know what we’re going to put up before and after the hurricane. We haven’t had to activate it yet but we put together recognizable artwork.

“If we have another storm the emergency managers will contact us, tell us we need to activate, and here’s what we need to put up. They tell us what to put up and we put it up. It has a certain look to it to make it recognizable. Take shelter or whatever the case may be. This is all free of charge.”

Amber Alerts also have a place in the Clear Channel repertoire “If we put up the picture of a child missing, that first 15 minutes is crucial. The sooner you have the picture up there, the more likely you’re going to be able to find that child.”