| Florida Today
Wheel of Fugitive: Not all on the wheel are actually fugitives
Sheriff Ivey’s popular “Wheel of Fugitive” regularly features people who are not fugitives.
Rob Landers, Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon and Bobby Block, Florida Today
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey is a master in the use of social media to connect with citizens while building his own personal brand of law enforcement.
Over the years, the folksy barrel-chested sheriff has created a slew of short Facebook video programs with titles like “Fishing for Fugitives,” “Cookin up Justice,” “Riding Shotgun,” “Brevard County Justice,” “On the Go with the BCSO,” and “Truth Be Told,” to name but a handful of these, some of which are weekly Facebook page features, while others are more occasional.
But the program that put Ivey and the BCSO on the social media map, and gained him both national attention and scorn, was his brainchild, “Wheel of Fugitive.”
How ‘Wheel of Fugitive’ began
Debuting in Fall 2015, the roughly three-minute video “show” has flashy graphics, a rock soundtrack and an image of a spinning roulette wheel festooned with mugshots of up to 10 fugitives. Special episodes of women only fugitives, called “Wheel of Fugitive: Ladies Night”, have fewer.
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It opens to Ivey alongside the wheel, sometimes dancing to the music, other times standing relaxed, but always with a smile, welcoming viewers to the Tuesday night regular program. In 179 episodes, he explains that all the people on the wheel have a cell waiting for them at the county jail before giving it a spin. Occasionally, there are “guests,” local dignitaries or celebrities, who are there to spin the wheel. Whomever the it lands on is the unlucky winner, the “fugitive of the week.”
The sheriff then encourages the suspect to “do the right thing” and turn themselves in, warning that if they don’t, viewers will tip off the deputies and the sheriff’s office fugitive unit will kick in their door and take them away.
Wheel of Fugitive: Sheriff’s video segment called into question
Created in 2015, Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s “Wheel of Fugitive” segment has brought national attention and scorn to his department.
Rob Landers and Bobby Block, Florida Today
Using social media as a tool
Ivey was among the first politicians and police to recognize that social media could be a powerful tool for law enforcement officials as they tried reach people with tips to avoid being victims of crime or needed help solving one. But “Wheel of Fugitive” was a runaway success, being featured on TV news shows around the country.
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He has said he first conceived of idea of the “Wheel of Fugitive” – inspired by the “Wheel Fortune” game show – soon after he took over as sheriff in 2012. Initially, the sheriff’s office offered what it called “Turn Them in Tuesday” where each week the sheriff’s office presented a single fugitive’s picture and asked the public for its help in pursing the suspect. By 2015, the idea had morphed into “Wheel of Fugitive.”
Ivey said he judges the response by the number of Facebook comments and shares and by the comments he receives when out doing public speaking.
“It’s designed to engage our community and it has worked almost to perfection,” Ivey told FLORIDA TODAY back in 2017. According to Ivey “about 88%” of the suspects turn themselves in or taken off the streets from citizens tips. He says he can hardly go anywhere without somebody telling how much they like the show.
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But critics object that his approach is nothing more than public shaming, and now there is evidence that not all the “contestants” are even real fugitives 30% of the time but a mix of people already in jail, legally out on parole or not facing any active warrants for their arrest.
Although the show has a disclaimer that runs along the bottom of the screen that some of those depicted might no longer be fugitives, it raises questions how the Sheriff and his staff are vetting those featured, and doesn’t give Ivey a pass to portray people as fugitives who aren’t, legal experts say.
‘Wheel of Fugitive’ gains national attention
In 2016, it was lampooned by Comedy Central’s Daily Show. In the episode, host Trevor Noah and comedian Hasan Minhaj mocked “Wheel of Fugitive”
“A little piece of magic I discovered on Facebook!” Minhaj said as he played a clip from the Facebook page.
“I don’t understand,” Noah said. “Why don’t police try and catch all the criminals instead of picking one per week?”
“Ah, dude!” Minhaj said. “You are ruining the show.”
Brevard County Public Defender Blaise Trettis, who has endorsed Ivey in his campaigns for sheriff, has also been publicly skeptical of the show.
“It seems to be more showbiz than actually effective law enforcement,” Trettis told FLORIDA TODAY in October.