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Tampa lauds billboard firm for murder suspect messages

An electronic billboard on State Road 60 just west of Kings Avenue in Brandon advertises reward information in the search for the weapon that was used to kill two Tampa police officers and another man.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

An electronic billboard on State Road 60 just west of Kings Avenue in Brandon advertises reward information in the search for the weapon that was used to kill two Tampa police officers and another man.

TAMPA — The day after two Tampa police officers were shot to death, Dontae Morris' face appeared on digital billboards throughout the state, along with information on a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

One place the billboards didn't appear after the shootings: Tampa.

That's because the City Council just approved the electronic signs for the city in May, after years of litigation and tense negotiations with neighborhood groups who resisted the new technology. Residents worried that the signs' bright lights would cause traffic accidents and said it amounted to blight near their homes.

But on Thursday, the council honored Clear Channel Outdoor for the company's help in capturing Morris.

"We are here to help this community," Tom O'Neill, vice president of real estate and public affairs for Clear Channel told the council. "Thank you so much for the recent vote to allow this to happen."

Digital billboards allow multiple messages to rotate on one sign. The technology also makes it easy to generate new messages.

After the shooting, CBS Outdoor put Morris' photo on 10 signs throughout the state.

Clear Channel put the image on eight signs in Hillsborough County and seven in Pinellas, as well as Ocala, Orlando and Miami.

"There was a gap in the city of Tampa," O'Neill said.

That won't be the case in the future. The company is set to start installing signs this fall, including some along Interstate 275.

Morris is accused of shooting police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis on June 29. He was arrested July 2.

Police Chief Jane Castor said she doesn't know if the billboards influenced the informant who helped with Morris' arrest. But they did let the community — and Morris — know that he was a very wanted man.

"It was a culmination of all the efforts that led to his capture," she said.

Back when the digital billboard controversy was a frequent part of City Council agendas, O'Neill included this type of community service as part of his argument to allow the signs.

The Morris incident was a case in point.

"It's an unfortunate irony that this came up right after the vote," O'Neill said.

On the other hand, he hopes it will resonate with St. Petersburg officials, who in September will consider allowing digital billboards in that city.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa lauds billboard firm for murder suspect messages 08/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 12:08am]
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