Crime Stoppers, an anonymous tip line, is credited with solving three murders in the South Sound community.
While those are high-profile cases, it must be noted that tips to the Crime Stoppers line – 360-493-2222 – are responsible for the resolution of hundreds of other cases, ranging from assault and armed robbery to burglary and auto theft.
It’s a great community program because it takes criminals off the street and puts reward money into the pockets of concerned citizens who want to see those criminals brought to justice.
Crime Stoppers is an international program that got its start in July 1976 when two criminals gunned down Michael Carmen, who was working at a small gas station in Albuquerque, N.M. The killers robbed, then shot Carmen for no apparent reason.
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Police worked the homicide case, but were getting nowhere. A police detective encouraged a television news crew to re-enact the crime. A viewer saw the reenactment, phoned police with a pivotal tip and within 72 hours Carmen’s two killers were in police custody.
Crime Stoppers was born.
The Crime Stoppers program came to this community on Feb. 28, 1991, after local resident John McCarthy and Lacey Police Commander Ed Sorger formed a nonprofit organization to take anonymous tips and pay out rewards. Start-up funds came from the Legislature.
It’s important to note that Crime Stoppers is governed by a citizens board of directors. They work in tandem with law enforcement officers assigned by Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater police departments and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. But it’s citizens, not police, who determine the value of the tip and make the financial award – which many tipsters reject. They say they are offering the information to enhance public safety not pad their own pocketbooks.
HOW IT WORKS
Tipsters call the Crime Stoppers number – 360-493-2222 – which is answered around the clock. Volunteers are trained to take the information and pass the tip to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Tipsters are assigned a code number.
The tipster can then call back in a week or two to see if the tip proved useful and if an arrest has been made. If so, the civilian board of directors assigns a reward amount.
The anonymous tipster is instructed to go to a bank and provide the code number and the tipster is then handed an envelope with the cash reward.
Sorger, who is chief of police at The Evergreen State College, said the credibility and integrity of the Crime Stoppers program is based on its promise of anonymity. Police don’t trace or record phone calls. They don’t have cameras in the bank or a stakeout in the parking lot. They say the program is anonymous and they strictly abide by that promise, Sorger said.
The offer of anonymity obviously works.
Internationally, more than 811,000 people have been arrested as the result of Crime Stoppers tips and more than one million criminal cases have been cleared.
Locally, the numbers are equally impressive:
• 900 suspects arrested.
• 918 cases cleared.
• $160,110 paid out in rewards.
• $1.82 million in stolen property recovered.
• $6.8 million in narcotics seized.
• 900 people prosecuted with 891 convictions.
Those are impressive statistics – especially considering the fact that Crime Stoppers is a nongovernmental program, financed through grassroots contributions.
In one murder case, a suspect was at the downtown bus station preparing to flee when police got the anonymous tip, raced to the scene and made the arrest.
In a second case, a Crime Stoppers tip broke the case of a 38-year-old Delphi Road resident who had been murdered.
And four years ago, murder suspect Keith R. Gomez was arrested in a Las Vegas motel after a Crime Stoppers tip. Gomez was subsequently convicted of killing a 24-year-old man outside a downtown Olympia nightclub.
Sorger said homicide tips usually generate a reward of $1,000 — the maximum award. Again, no government money is used for rewards and the all-volunteer Crime Stoppers program has no paid staff. All the money – about $12,000 a year – is raised by the Crime Stoppers board or through the generosity of local donors, according to board president Jon Tunheim, chief deputy prosecuting attorney in Thurston County.
Donors deserve credit for keeping this valuable public safety program operational in our community. As the statistics show, hundreds of criminals have been arrested and hundreds of crimes have been solved thanks to the lure of the anonymous tip line.
Crime Stoppers deserves broad community support.