01 Jul Understanding Crime Stoppers
As a former Chairman and long-time member of the Board of Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry, Inc., it has often occurred to me that the average citizen may not fully appreciate what an important role we play in the world of law enforcement and crime prevention.
Crime Stoppers is mentioned, sometimes more than once, in just about every edition of Charleston’s Post and Courier – typically in the smallest of print, as the last words in an article addressing an unsolved crime, and as an alternative to the police for a call with information.
The same goes for its mention during a television broadcast: “If you have any information, please call the police – or Crime Stoppers”
But when it is mentioned in this way, not only its purpose, but also its very existence, is likely misunderstood.
Crime Stoppers is NOT a government agency. It is NOT a branch of law enforcement. It is a non-profit organization run by a volunteer Board of Directors which on a monthly basis authorizes payment of cash rewards of up to $1000 for tips leading to the arrest of individuals charged with a crime in any of the five Lowcountry counties which it serves. The tipster never identifies himself, and remains anonymous up to and including the receipt of the reward money.
Nationally, Crime Stoppers began in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1978, and in the Charleston area in 1983. The essential ingredient of Crime Stoppers is guaranteed anonymity. Witnesses who have no fear of reprisal or further involvement, and who might be rewarded with cash, are invaluable.
Law Enforcement can not guarantee anonymity. If the police prosecute someone based on an anonymous tip, the accused is almost always entitled to know who the informant was.
That’s why Crime Stoppers was formed – to encourage involvement by people with knowledge, while at the same time protecting their anonymity.
Since its inception Charleston’s Crime Stoppers has taken 30,300 tips, leading to 2400 arrests and the clearing of 9800 cases. Besides many lower profile cases, the Charleston “serial rapist” case and, more recently, the long-cold case known as the “Yellow Cab murder” , were closed with tips to Crime Stoppers. Anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers have led to the payment of $150,200 in rewards, the recovery of $2,100,000 in property and the seizure of $811,000 in illegal drugs.
If you don’t think cash rewards to anonymous tipsters play an important role in the closure of unsolved crimes, just ask Charleston County Sheriff Al Canon, Berkeley County Sheriff Wayne DeWitt or City of Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen.
By its Bylaws, Crime Stoppers awards are limited to $1000 – depending on factors such as severity of crime, number of individuals arrested, and so forth. We have to set this relatively low limit because, like all non-profit organizations, we depend on donations from the public.
More recently, however, and under very controlled conditions, Crime Stoppers has assisted in making much larger rewards, collected on behalf of specific victims, available. For example in the case of Matthew Renken, the family has put up $10,000 which Crime Stoppers will add to its $1000 reward if an anonymous tip leads to an arrest of the person responsible for Mr. Renken’s death. And friends and family of murdered teenager Marley Lion have done the same with a private fund.
Again, if the call goes to the police, the anonymity can’t be protected, and the witness may eventually have to be identified. In the case of Crime Stoppers, however, that can never happen. Whether it is a tip by phone or text or e-mail, or via the Crime Stoppers website, we pay for special technology that “sanitizes” any traceable information and anonymity is guaranteed. Even when the tipster cashes the check, through the cooperation of our bank, it is done without name or identification.
I hope that the next time you see a reference to Crime Stoppers, in the paper, or on television, you will now have a better understanding of what we do and how we do it.