Calling law enforcement agencies with information on criminal activity can be intimidating, but some agencies are offering tipsters another way to go about it.
Agencies in South Carolina, for example, have developed a strong relationship with the South Carolina Crime Stoppers Council, a non-profit organization that grants anonymity to tipsters while offering cash rewards for information leading to arrests.
Residents in Aiken County are serviced by the Midlands Crimestoppers, and Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Eric Abdullah said the relationship has been beneficial.
“Sometimes people feel like they can’t come forward, but there are other options,” he said. “Crimestoppers is that other option. We don’t turn a blind eye to people sending us information through Crimestoppers, and we’ve made a lot of progress in a lot of cases just based on information that we’ve received through a Crimestoppers tip.”
Capt. Chris Cowan, the treasurer of the South Carolina Crime Stoppers Council, which oversees the Midlands Crimestoppers, said the organization has been particularly successful because tipsters feel less at risk when granted anonymity.
“If they feel that they’re calling law enforcement, they’re going to be hesitant,” he said. “There is still a huge amount of work going on by law enforcement to gain trust in the community. We feel, in South Carolina, that citizens can call in and trust the program.”
The council, which was established in 2006 after the South Carolina Crimestoppers Act passed, oversees 11 programs throughout the state. The council is comprised of two members from each program, Cowan said, and the representatives could be law enforcement officers or civilians.
Each of the organizations 11 programs are required to follow strict rules that guarantee anonymity from the moment a tip is received to the moment the tipster is paid. In 2012, the council received more than 15,000 tips.
Though the South Carolina agencies have largely adopted the council as an alternative information-gathering source, Lt. Calvin Chew said the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has yet to fully embrace an alternative.
“We get some tips from them from time to time, but it’s not often,” he said. “We will certainly take information from the Augusta Crime Stoppers and the (Midlands Crimestoppers), but we also take anonymous tips.”
Chew said the introduction of the department’s new Web site has given tipsters a way to provide tips.
“People have begun using social media and using the website to offer tips and we really appreciate that,” he said. “We allow them to remain completely anonymous if they choose to do so.”
Abdullah said the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office also grants anonymity, but that he prefers to have face-to-face interaction with the tipsters.
“We’d rather that they come to us directly so that we can handle the situation as best as we can or as quickly as we can,” he said.
Griff Griffin, the executive director of the Augusta Crime Stoppers, said that he’s taking part in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s Citizens Police Academy in an effort to strengthen his relationship with the agency.
“You have to step forward,” he said. “In order to make a friend, you have to be a friend. I want to know what signals they’re sending. I want to know how they want things done. I’m forming relationships with the guys on the street.”
Griffin said the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office could spend reward money elsewhere if it used the crimestoppers.
“It could be used to hire more officers,” he said. “It could be used to put cameras in areas that need to have cameras. That money could do all kinds of things.”