'Busted Bingo' takes unorthodox aim at Sullivan County's wanted

Rain Smith • Nov 16, 2017 at 11:45 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Hoping to capitalize on the age of reality TV and social media immersion, the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office has unveiled a new online "game show" to help round up wanted individuals.

On Wednesday, the first installment of "Busted Bingo" hit the department's Facebook and YouTube pages. As touted with a tongue-in-cheek press release from SCSO Public Information Officer Kristin Quon, each week's "winner" will receive "an all-inclusive stay at the Sullivan County correctional facility."

"It's an innovative way to capture people's attention," Sheriff Wayne Anderson told the Times-News. "We only have X number of deputies here, but thousands and thousands of citizens who will watch this and might know where these (wanted) people are."

The premiere video begins with department employees at work, while a voiceover explains, "The Sullivan County Sheriff's Office has too many warrants, so the men in black are coming for yooouuu!"

Following the intro, the show's "host," Anderson, stands in front of a large bingo-style display, featuring offenders' faces in the blocks. A hopper is turned by Chief Deputy Lisa Christian, and then she reaches in to retrieve a bingo ball.

Anderson reads the number selected, references the board to find the corresponding offender, then quips, "We're going to make a star out of 0-10."

The video cuts to a mug of the randomly selected suspect, while displaying her address and charges — in this case, failure to appear and theft of property.

Sheriff Anderson then issues some advice to the woman: "Girl, you might as well cowgirl up, come on in, kiss your boyfriend goodbye, give your momma a big hug — cause if you don't we're gonna come and get you and bring you to jail."

For a law enforcement outreach effort, the tone of "Busted Bingo" is unorthodox and wildly contrary to traditional "cop-speak." Anderson says he's not concerned with any criticism— which has already popped up online — that the in-house production is unprofessional, or that it mocks the justice system. 

"I think some people liked it and some didn't," Anderson told the Times-News. "But either way, you do it to grab their attention."

"The bottom line is we have to serve these warrants. I'm required and mandated by law to do that. So whatever it takes to grab people's attention and get them interested in helping us out, I have a duty to do that."

The Times-News learned that prior to Wednesday’s "Busted Bingo" going online, the suspect selected had already been jailed for several days in Bristol, Va. According to Quon, the woman gave a false date of birth to authorities, thus a check of records didn't indicate she was currently incarcerated. Quon said that despite the clerical oversight, the video helped the department clear the warrant for the suspect’s arrest.

As previously reported by the Times-News, the Sullivan County jail in Blountville is overcrowded, with Criminal Court Judge James Goodwin saying the population has reached "critical mass." Last month, offenders reporting for weekend duty were turned away because there was no room to house them.

Given as much, the "Busted Bingo" effort to find wanted people may seem untimely. But the jail population has now dwindled slightly, Anderson said, with weekenders now being contacted to return and serve their sentences.

Anderson added that people brought in on active warrants — which currently total more than 7,000 unserved in Sullivan County — would also take precedence over housing weekenders.

Meanwhile, the delivery and style of "Busted Bingo" is not going to be conducive to all wanted individuals. Anderson says the sheriff's office is sensitive to victims of violent and sexual crimes, so warrants related to those cases likely won't be included.

The SCSO anticipates posting new "Busted Bingo" videos once a week on its Facebook and YouTube accounts.

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