Columns

2011.03.23 Toledo publishers find unique way of making crime pay

on . Posted in Nowhere Road

By RICH FOLEY

I’m always on the lookout for interesting reading material, so when a friend returned from a recent trip to Toledo with a copy of a publication called “Behind Bars,” my day was made. With all of the odd little tabloids already on the market, why did it take so long for someone to come up with this idea?

Simply put, Behind Bars, published each Tuesday,  runs mug shots, with names and charges, of recent suspects arrested in Lucas County. The paper clearly states that all information used is in the public domain, consists of arrest and booking information obtained from public records and that all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. That said, I doubt the disclaimer makes those featured in the publication feel any better. 

Just in case, no names of those responsible for issuing the paper are printed. Neither is there an office address. That probably not only cuts down on complaints, but also reduces the chances of a person featured in the paper making a return appearance for disorderly conduct after paying a visit to the publisher.

The copy I have displays a total of 316 photos, which is a bit scary when you realize that this is only a week’s worth of arrests and that relatively minor offenses are not included. The more I look through the photos, the less appealing a trip to Toledo seems to me.

I laughed at the publication’s slogan, “Toledo’s Most Popular Weekly Crime Newspaper.” Seriously, how could it not be? It’s not like there’s more than one, right? Actually, that’s not the case. In looking for the website for Behind Bars, I discovered that Lucas County is home to at least two more weekly mug shot publications. 

One, with the similar name of “Buckeyes Behind Bars,” claims to run the mug shot of every person who has been booked into the Lucas County jail. It sells for $2. Another, called “Locked Up News,” sells for $1. The fact that Behind Bars is free probably is the basis for their “most popular” claim. But three mug shot publications in the same city? At least some printer is making a few bucks.

The front page of Behind Bars displayed six “Mugs of the Week,” chosen apparently for their comedic value. Categories included Best Mullet, Best Dressed (a man wearing a tie in his mug shot who had been arrested for theft), and Nicest Smile. Do you suppose inmates who make the front page get special privileges in jail? After all, they are kind of a celebrity.

Along with the mug shots, the paper also had a few features. One was a list of odd blue laws from around the country, such as the one in Florida banning sexual relations with a porcupine, or the Idaho ordinance outlawing fishing from a giraffe’s back.

Even more interesting was the page of “Dumb Criminal Stories.” My favorite was the Virginia man who applied for welfare benefits after driving to the department of social services office in a Hummer H2. Someone thought that odd enough to contact the sheriff’s office, and sure enough, the Hummer was stolen. At least the driver won’t have to worry where he’ll live for a while, even if his welfare application isn’t approved. 

Then, there was the Georgia man who planned to rob a convenience store, but, wanting to be alone with the clerk, decided to fill out a job application until the customers cleared out. Police investigating the robbery discovered the suspect put down his real name and a relative’s phone number on the application. Not only was he arrested for the crime, he didn’t get the job, either.

Helping to pay for the paper are advertisements from several criminal attorneys and another from an insurance company. And then, there’s what I’d guess is their biggest moneymaker: framed copies of mug shots.

Like other papers that sell reprints of photos appearing in their pages, Behind Bars offers 5x7 framed copies of any mug shot in the publication, $20 per mug and free shipping. I’m sure that young lady featured for Best Smile would like additional copies. Just think how quickly a pictured person could finish their Christmas shopping, many months in advance.  

I’m really happy my friend brought me the paper, but after seeing the amount of criminal activity in the Glass City in just a week, I’m not in any hurry to re-visit Toledo anytime soon. Unless, of course, I can go with a SWAT team escort.

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