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Sep 18, 2013 - Steve Peck, Publisher

False positives on sightings of escapee are reasonable price to pay for vigilance

The power of suggestion is no small thing.

Proof can be found in all the supposed sightings of escaped prisoner Kenneth Ward in Fremont County. In recent days about a half dozen people have reported seeing the man, or thinking they might have seen him.

Not one of these reports has been an actual sighting of Ward, who gave the slip over the Labor Day weekend to the people from the guard-for-hire company who were supposed to transport him from Casper to Rock Springs.

But that hasn't stopped people from thinking they've seem him.

When someone is missing or being sought, police don't always sound a general alarm immediately because they'd rather not deal with people coming out of the woodwork with false reports, preferring to rely on investigation to develop leads that have a better chance of paying off than an anonymous phone call offers.

Other times, however, the warning is issued publicly and immediately, along with the call for help. If the person is a criminal who could be dangerous to the public, if a child is involved, or if the missing person is infirm or otherwise at risk, the authorities will ask for as many extra pairs of eyes as the public can provide.

The Fremont County reports of Ward sightings have come up empty, but none of them is thought to be a hoax or the work of a crackpot. "If you see something, say something" has become a watchword for the modern-day American public. When a prisoner is on the loose, law enforcement isn't going to begrudge the public a few false positives.

They want to find this guy -- and he has been seen a time or two. It is known that he got a ride from someone, and someone probably helped him get out of the handcuffs he was wearing when he escaped.

If the choice is between making a mistaken report on seeing a fugitive, assisting an escaped criminal, or remaining silent even if your suspicion is aroused, the former is the way to go.

Kenneth Ward isn't exactly public enemy No. 1, but he has a violent past and was in custody for committing a crime. Whoever did see and assist him has helped a criminal evade the law. Whoever sees him next ought to blow the whistle on him.

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