VANCOUVER—Brandon Teixeira was a wanted man. Charged with first degree murder in connection with a deadly 2017 Surrey shooting, there was a warrant out for his arrest. He evaded capture for almost two years — until Sunday.
Earlier this year, Teixeira became the subject of the Bolo Program, which uses targeted ads to find Canada’s most wanted fugitives. In April, bright yellow “wanted” ads with his image began appearing across B.C.’s Lower Mainland, where he was thought to be hiding out.
Police say the targeted ad campaign helped generate a number of tips that may have lead to his arrest in California last week — ending an international manhunt involving police from Canada and the U.S.
“I would go so far as to say we would not have gotten him without the help of the Bolo program,” said Sgt. Frank Jang, spokesperson for B.C.’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).
Launched in Toronto in May 2018, the Bolo or “Be On The Lookout,” program uses software to assist police agencies across Canada by determining the best way to share and “amplify” information that could help locate some of Canada’s most dangerous fugitives.
In Teixeira’s case, Bolo distributed more than 15,000 flyers to liquor stores, car rental agencies and other businesses he might have frequented. They also put up billboards in locations he might have been spotted, and placed “extensive” ads on Facebook and Instagram.
The ads were also distributed directly by police. During the course of their investigation, IHIT discovered that Teixeira might be using food delivery apps such as Skip the Dishes. Investigators sent the company the Bolo-designed ad via email, and the food delivery company then distributed the ad to delivery drivers across the Lower Mainland.
According to Jang, the blaring neon ads generated “a lot of interest” in the case.
Though the Bolo program can be helpful to police investigations, it’s not run by law enforcement — it is an initiative funded by the Montreal-based Stephan Crétier Foundation, a charity whose namesake is also the founder and CEO of GardaWorld Security Corp, a private security company.
Bolo program director Max Langlois said they want to ensure people have an awareness of Canada’s most wanted and possibly dangerous suspects without intruding in their everyday lives or disrupting police operations.
“Canadians are good people, and they are constantly bombarded with requests to help, donate, or do things for community,” Langlois told Star Vancouver. “We wanted to communicate that the ‘most wanted’ list was also important to think about.”
There are two key parts to Bolo campaigns: Informational awareness through targeted ads, and the offering of a reward to provide incentive.
The strategy of capturing the public’s attention “at the right time, the right place, using the right means” was what lead to the development of Spark, a software-based “engagement engine” built specifically for Bolo. It determines the best way to distribute targeted ads about fugitives and to make sure that information gets to the right audience, based on the location and specifics of the alleged crimes committed.
Langlois said they wanted to ensure the campaigns were “naturally inset” into the daily lives of Canadians. Since the program’s launch, bright yellow “most wanted” ads, which are carefully designed to be eye-catching and memorable, have been placed on Facebook and Instagram, bus shelters, the sides of trucks and other visible areas.
They provide a link to the Bolo web page, where details of the crimes fugitives are suspected of committing are listed, along with aliases, scars or identifying marks, reported sightings and other information, as well as contact details for law enforcement.
The program also funds a reward: At least $50,000 for tips leading to the arrest of each person on Bolo’s current list of eight suspects.
Bolo doesn’t have access to police investigations or confidential information — they can only see what police have made public in each of the “most wanted” cases. So to decide which fugitives make the list, the program relies on the help of a committee made up of fugitive investigators at law enforcement agencies across Canada. They committee makes recommendations to Bolo’s board of directors based on the level of danger the individual poses to the public, police priority, and other factors.
The targeted ad strategy has already been used to try to solicit information for another of Canada’s most prominent fugitives: Akil Whyte, wanted for murder by Toronto police. He was caught this summer on Aug. 6, 2019. In a news release, the Toronto Police Service thanked the public, Crime Stoppers and the Bolo Program for their assistance.
According to Langlois, it’s difficult to determine if any of the tips police received in the case were called in because of Bolo, because the program does not collect tips directly. Tips are confidential and must go through law enforcement agencies.
But based on information from police departments, tips generally increase rapidly in volume once a campaign launches, which is what occurred in Whyte’s case.
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Jang said that’s also what happened with Teixeira. He described how “police officers and members of the public alike” began to associate the Bolo program with Teixeira’s image when his campaign launched in April 2019.
Earlier this week, Langlois launched the next Bolo campaign in partnership with Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers. This time, the target is Cong Dinh, a Burnaby man wanted on five counts of money laundering.
He said that this case was much more complicated, involving crimes nearly 10 years old, but “whatever has to be done … we’re going to do” to find Dinh.
With files from The Canadian Press