Countywide Crime Stoppers organization starts

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Law enforcement agencies in Marshall County have joined forces with the media, businessmen and women to create a Crime Stoppers organization with a reward schedule to attract information and public support to solve crime.

While all the municipal police departments are participating, the two coordinators are Lewisburg Police Lt. Rebekah Mitchell and Marshall County Sheriff's Detective Capt. Norman Dalton who explained the program Friday when the Crime Stoppers tip line was first published.

Several home burglaries -- epitomized by thefts from football and baseball coach Steve Reese's home on Simmons Ridge Road where nearly a dozen championship or title rings were taken, appear to be the work of the same person or team, Dalton said Thursday when he opened the Crime Stoppers tip line, (931) 359-4867.

Establishment of a Crime Stoppers Board to manage a telephone tip line and pay rewards to help solve crime has been a goal for Dalton for nearly a year, although the idea was previously considered.

"He had done all the research and knew all the steps that we had to take," Mitchell said. "Some times it just takes somebody to decide that this is what we need to do."

A senior couple's home burglary in the Berlin Community might be seen as the tipping point for Dalton who's spoken about how the wife in that couple felt personally violated when she realized a stranger rifled her dresser drawers.

"That burglary put the push on," Dalton said. Crime Stoppers "is another tool for us to use.

"We used to know everybody in the county, but we don't anymore," he said. "People have moved in."

Now, an anonymous nine-member board has been formed. They serve without compensation. They're merchants and other kinds of businessmen and women -- retired and still working -- from all parts of the county. An attorney is providing legal advice. They'll meet on an as-needed basis.

A chief reason for a meeting would be to compare information received through the tip line and how effective it's been toward solving a crime.

"Their duty is to raise the funds and approve the reward payments if the crime is solved," Dalton said.

The Citizens of Marshall County Crime Stoppers Board is affiliated with Crime Stoppers USA, a regional member of Crime Stoppers International. Those groups have guidelines for the program.

Here's how information may lead to payment of a reward.

Someone with information calls the Crime Stopper phone number. The call is answered by a volunteer who fills out a questionnaire. Callers will be asked to describe the crime, the suspect, and any vehicle involved. Callers will be asked to give a narrative of the crime.

"Most of the time they'll talk to a live person," Dalton said. "Some of the time, there will be an answering machine. If they get the answering machine, they'll have to call back to get an ID number to be able to get a reward" if the information proves worthwhile.

The volunteers answering the phone are to listen more and interview less, Dalton said. That's to focus only on what the caller is telling.

Assuming the information leads to an arrest and conviction, then a password is provided to the informant who's instructed to go to a particular bank's drive through lane away from the teller's window. The reward is paid in exchange for the ID-number and password.

"Law enforcement does not become a part of the paying of the reward," Dalton said. "That's up to the board members."

Anonymity of the person providing information is a chief goal of Crime Stoppers, he said.

"We've had several meetings getting the board in place, dealing with what bills to pay and who to pay," Dalton said.

Mitchell said, "We hope it will not only be a benefit to law enforcement, but for the community as well."

Other tip lines have been in place, but they've been tied to a law enforcement agency phone.

"When you are in this business, you forget the importance of trying to reach out and get the community involved," she said. "It's a triad."

Beyond law enforcement, the three parts include the community and the media.

Clearly the public is involved on the board and through the calls made to the telephone number.

The media's involvement includes publication of a Crime Stoppers story about a crime that's described and followed by an appeal by the citizens board for calls to the tip line. Re-enactments have been produced and aired by some TV stations.

"I fully support the Crime Stoppers initiative," Lewisburg Police Chief Chuck Forbis said.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Jackie King helped develop the board.

"We have two board members from this end of the county on it," King said. "I believe every city has donated to it to get it started.

"Once this thing gets going, it will take more money because people will be calling in," he said. "I think we're going to have a fund raiser for it this next year.

"Every city has got a drug problem and needless to say we do too," King said. "I hope this helps deters it.

"And we are accepting donations for Crime Stoppers," he said directing area residents to their local law enforcement agency, including Cornersville Police Chief Todd Bone and Petersburg Chief Larry Hardin.

# # #




Crime Stoppers USA provides a list of crimes with a range of suggested dollar amounts for rewards.

Because the local Crime Stoppers Board is new, there's not a great deal of money in the non-profit organization's treasury, so the low end of the suggested range is being used here.

Examples of crimes and prospective rewards include:

$500 -- Homicide and rape.

$300 -- Robbery.

$200 -- Aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, arson, forgery/fraud, fugitives and other felonies including non-rape sex offenses, felony non-support and meth labs, the latter being in conjunction with Metro-Nashville's bounty program.

$25 -- Narcotics.

Actual rewards paid are set in comparison to information from investigators, the amount of property and/or drugs recovered, the number of cases cleared because of the tip, and/or any other criteria impacting the tip.

No reward is paid for the recovery of property only.