A view from Dave Trott: Calling the play
A view from Dave Trott

Calling the play

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In 1985, what everyone in Washington DC wanted more than anything was tickets to see the Washington Redskins football team.

That’s why the waiting list for a season ticket was 25 years.

But one cable TV company used the ticket shortage to its advantage.

They sent out invitations to a random list of lucky people, to come to a Washington Redskins game for free.

The recipients couldn’t believe their luck – it was too good to be true.

The invitation was from Flagship International Sports Television and it was personally signed by the owner, I M Detnaw.

It was a luxury event: brunch at the Washington Convention Centre, then a bus to the stadium and the game.

Naturally the lucky winners had to bring ID to prove who they were.

When they arrived, it was a party atmosphere: cheering, whooping, high-fives.

They were greeted by skimpily dressed cheerleaders who hugged them.

They were led into the hall by ushers in tuxedos, and team mascots: chickens and Redskins.

Finally, they were addressed from the stage by the head of marketing.

He said: "Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a special surprise for you today. You’re all under arrest. Get down on the floor, now."

Then the doors burst open and dozens of armed police rushed in with shotguns.

They handcuffed every one of the winners while they were lying on the floor.

The entire event had been a sting operation.

Unknown to each other, all the people who had been invited were fugitives from the law.

All the staff were either police officers or US Marshals.

From the smiling ushers in tuxedos, to the team mascots, to the cheerleaders.

In fact, the cheerleaders who hugged them were actually female US Marshals patting them down for weapons.

It was amazing no-one suspected anything – it was amazing the fugitives turned up.

But the lure of free tickets to the Washington Redskins over-rode caution.

The head detective said it was apparent when the fugitives phoned beforehand.

The operators told them: "You have to come along and bring ID, otherwise we give your ticket to the next person in line."

And all the fugitives said: "You ain’t giving my ticket away – I’ll be there."

The head of the operation told his men that maintaining the pretence was everything: "We don’t normally smile at bad guys, but today we have to kill them with smiles."

That day, the police made 119 arrests and got 101 convictions: murderers, robbers, violent criminals, rapists.

And the cost of the entire operation was just $22,000.

Whereas the police often spend millions of dollars to catch a single high-profile fugitive.

The police and the US Marshals themselves even had fun with the operation.

The name of the fictional cable company was Flagship International Sports Television.

Which was the initials of the police group: FIST – Fugitive Investigative Strike Team.

The name of the executive that signed the invitations was I M Detnaw.

An anagram of I M Wanted.

As the head of the operation said: "A sting operation is a safe way to arrest fugitives: they’re not prepared – their minds are diverted, they’re in a festive mood."

The head of the operation was made NYC Police Commissioner under Mayor Giuliani.

The whole operation is an example for us of the first rule of real creativity.

And police work is just like any other creative activity.

We must always remember – it’s never just about understanding the job.

It’s always about understanding people.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.