Billboards help police in Mobile, Ala.

Police here have a new weapon to fight crime and enlist help from people on the street: electronic billboards.

A partnership between the Mobile Police Department and Lamar Advertising will allow law enforcement agencies to flash the photos and names of violent criminals or missing persons on the new digital billboards within minutes of a police report.

"This is a very exciting partnership that will allow us to move fast and efficiently if we're looking for violent criminals, or if we need to find a missing person who might be in distress," Police Chief Phillip Garrett said.

Lamar Advertising has offered to put up photos and information on individuals sought by police and will do so on 13 billboards on roadways throughout the Mobile area, Garrett said.

The company has also agreed to make three electronic billboards it has in Baldwin County available for use by police if needed, officials said.

Mobile police, for example, can obtain the photo of a robber off a surveillance camera in an area bank or business and e-mail it to Lamar Advertising and it can be displayed on the billboards within 15 minutes, said police spokeswoman Nancy Johnson. She said Lamar Advertising has volunteered to flash the photos and information on its billboards free of charge. She said they will be rotated every six seconds with the advertisements placed by the company's clients. "This is an advantage we haven't had," she said.

Garrett said of this new electronic tool, "It's not only important in the event of a fleeing felon. When we have abducted children, or missing Alzheimer patients, time is crucial for success. This one element could be the lifeline for some of our most vulnerable citizens."

Johnson said police could target specific areas of the city or could flash the photos and information on the signs throughout the city. She said the billboards range in size from 10 feet by 21 feet to 14 feet by 48 feet.

The first electronic wanted poster went up last week and featured a 21-year-old wanted in connection with a Nov. 20 bank robbery.