North Carolina Department of Correction - Correction News - December 1998

Craven County Absconders Beware
Surveillance officer utilizes media to capture probation/parole violators

NEW BERN — Absconding from supervision has become a little more difficult for probationers and parolees in Craven County these days. With their faces and descriptions being broadcast into 16,000 homes along with the promise of reward money for information leading to their arrests, absconders are finding that it is becoming harder to stay hidden.

The person responsible for shaking up the lives of these absconders is Jeff Casassa, a surveillance officer for Judicial District 3B in New Bern. Earlier this year, Casassa took it upon himself to start a "Craven County’s Most Wanted" program.

Through the program, billboards containing pictures and descriptions of the absconders are aired on the local cable channel 15 times a day, seven days a week, and once a week, Casassa appears on a local television show where he gives out additional information on the county’s absconders.

Since beginning the program in April, nine Craven County absconders have either been caught or turned themselves in as a direct result of Casassa’s efforts.

Casassa, who has only been with the Division of Community Corrections for a year, got the idea for the program while vacationing in Myrtle Beach.

"I was sitting in my hotel room flipping channels when I came across this probation and parole violators billboard," he said. "That got me thinking about how we could do something similar here."

With help and approval from his supervisor, Chief Probation and Parole Officer Gary London, Casassa developed a format for the billboards and made arrangements with the local television station to run six different billboards each week. The billboards contain the absconder’s picture, name, date of birth, age, race, sex, height, weight, scars, marks and tattoos, offense and last known address.

The Craven County Sheriff’s Department provides Casassa with the pictures of the absconders and Crime Stoppers offers rewards to people who call in with information leading to the arrest of an absconder.

Soon after the billboards started airing, the television station thought it would be a good idea to expand the program by featuring Casassa on one of its community television programs. Now, every Friday morning between 7 and 7:30, Casassa can be seen on "Will C.’s Giblet T.V." providing information on 10 additional absconders and talking about the Division of Community Corrections.

"By putting this information on television, we are not only catching absconders, we are also exposing the Division of Community Corrections to the public," Casassa said. "This lets the public know that we are not just sitting in our offices – we are actually out there doing something to improve the public’s safety."

Not satisfied with limiting the program to television, Casassa is currently working to expand the program to include newspaper and radio. Tentative plans are underway for the local newspaper to run the names of 10 absconders each week, and four radio stations have expressed an interest in adding "Craven County’s Most Wanted" to their daily programming.

Although it has taken Casassa a lot of his own time to get the program up and running, he said that anything he can do to help capture these absconders is worth it.

"To me, it’s like a slap in the face when someone leaves supervision without permission," he said. "These people need to be put back where they belong. It just kills me when the courts give these people a second chance, and they just go off and do what they want. It’s not fair, so I’ve designated myself as someone to go out and find them."

Casassa has a caseload of 67 absconders while three other officers in his office have a caseload of 30 each for a total of 157 absconders. Casassa said he is working on compiling information on all the absconders into one, large caseload that can be sent out to other law enforcement agencies.

Prior to coming to work for the Division of Community Corrections, Casassa served as a U.S. Marine and later worked as a member of the U.S. Secret Service Uniform Division in Washington, D.C., under President Jimmy Carter. He also served as a police officer for the Town of River Bend, Atlantic Beach and New Bern and as a correctional officer at Eastern Correctional Institution in Maury before accepting his current job as a surveillance officer.

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