Crime Stoppers program works, officials say

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The mission of Crime Stoppers was described by Monett Police Chief Tim Schweder and Board Chairman John Strong at last week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club.

According to Schweder, the Crime Stoppers program began locally in 2007. When a prisoner who had escaped from the Barry County Jail was captured as a result of a tip.

Crime Stoppers, organized to serve both Barry and Lawrence counties, provides a way the public can anonymously provide information about crime suspects. The organization targets specific individuals who have eluded law enforcement and sends out fliers asking for information.

Out of the 15 fliers issued to date, 12 people have been arrested, Schweder said.

Cases can develop out of simple leads or complex criminal activity. Schweder recounted an instance where two men appeared to be conducting maintenance on a vending machine at the Ramey Supermarket, in Monett, but when confronted by the machine's owner, the two fled. One, with outstanding warrants, was captured.

Currently officers are looking for information about a chop shop dealing in tractor parts. Schweder said four tractors have been stolen in the Aurora area alone.

Anonymity is a major key to making Crime Stoppers work, the chief continued. Tipsters calling in are given a number they can use in providing information later. Names are not given, and police cannot return phone calls.

In more metropolitan jurisdictions, texting has become part of the process. Schweder explained that texting allows a back-and-forth exchange without revealing identity, especially when a middle party relays the text between the tipster and police. Schweder felt with lower incident rates in the bi-county area, texting was not likely to develop as a major tool here.

Strong described the mechanics for how the program works. The Monett Police Department maintains a 24-hour telephone watch line for tips. The Crime Stoppers board meets to consider cases and how much of a reward to offer.

Tipsters are able to call in and check on the status of a reward. Payment is given at the time the suspect is arraigned in court. Even the process of giving out the reward has a shielding procedure in it, Strong said. The bank providing the money does not require a signature that could be traced later.

Fear of reprisal is a major factor for why people do not get involved in stopping crime, Strong said. Crime Stoppers offers a way around that and provides support to 12 different area law enforcement agencies.

Locally, Crime Stoppers is funded by donations. The program is limited in its effectiveness by the amount of funds available for rewards. Money is primarily used for printing and advertising costs to circulate posters. Donations can be made by individuals and businesses.

As a not-for-profit organization, Crime Stoppers has benefitted from charitable efforts. For example, Strong said the use of two outdoor billboards has been donated. Instead of incurring traditional costs for preparing glued-on paper sheets, Crime Stoppers can now have a posters enlarged onto a large plastic sheet and attached to the billboard at a much reduced cost.

The success of Crime Stoppers, which started in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1976, has enabled the program to develop into 1,000 locations nationwide and into 18 overseas countries, Strong added. The average conviction rate on cases solved by Crime Stoppers has grown to 95 percent.

Kiwanis President Randy Henderson presided at the meeting. Lisa Balmas was the program chairman.

The Monett Kiwanis Club meets on Tuesdays at noon for a program and a meal, usually at Happy House restaurant.

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