CINCINNATI – Customers at some suburban pizza parlors are getting something extra with their pepperoni and mushrooms — wanted posters for parents accused of failing to pay child support.
The idea came to Cynthia Brown, executive director of the Butler County Child Enforcement Agency, while she was ordering pizza.
"It suddenly dawned on me that most people running from the law don't eat out, they order pizza," said Brown, whose county is north of Cincinnati.
Enforcement agencies across the country use a variety of methods to locate support scofflaws and collect past-due payments. Virginia has issued subpoenas to cellular phone companies seeking addresses and phone numbers. California's Kern County seizes and auctions parents' vehicles, with proceeds going to the children, said Kay Cullen, a spokeswoman for the National Child Support Enforcement Association.
State child support agencies collected more than $23 billion in child support for 17.2 million children in 2005, but the cumulative past-due child support since the agencies were first formed more than 30 years ago is $106 billion, Cullen said.
"While we have made progress, putting the wanted posters on pizza boxes is an example of the innovation and commitment that we need," she said.
Other Ohio counties put posters on their Web sites and work with local Crime Stoppers programs, and a few contract with companies that can track people through rental and cell phone records, according to the Ohio Child Support Directors Association. Some include fliers in water and sewer bills.
Butler County has printed posters with mug shots of its 10 most-wanted parents, placing them in post offices and other government buildings and sending them to Ohio's 87 other counties. The lineup, chosen by prosecutors, is changed twice a year.
The Butler County sheriff's office served 1,224 nonsupport warrants last year, said sheriff's Sgt. Todd Langmeyer.
Brown approached several restaurants and chains with her idea of affixing the posters to pizza boxes, but so far only three pizzerias are participating.
Since the first pizza posters appeared in August, they have led to one arrest, Langmeyer said. "It's a good idea any time you can put the faces out there," he said.
The owner of Karen's Pizzeria hasn't heard any complaints about her participation in the poster program.
"Some customers joke about it and say they're glad they aren't on it," Karen Willis said. "Most seem to think it's a good idea."
An attorney who focuses on fathers' rights cases called the tactic "horrible."
"It's just a way of shaming people," said Maury Beaulier, whose firm is in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Many circumstances can cause people to get behind in support payments, but that doesn't make them deadbeats, he said.
Widespread public shaming also can devastate the children, said Michael McCormick, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.
"Think how children feel to see a parent on a wanted poster and know their friends might see it," he said.
Brown said her agency tries to work with parents by trying to help them find work and seeks most payments through civil court. Criminal charges are a last resort. Conviction on a felony count of failing to pay child support brings a prison sentence of up to 18 months, with fines usually set in the amount of the support owed.
"We aren't trying to penalize these people," Brown said. "We are just trying to help the kids who have a right to be supported."