As a long-time member and former chairman of the board of Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry, Inc., and especially with the recent high publicity generated with the private funding of rewards for information about two recent homicides, it is possible that the average citizen may not fully appreciate the nature of the 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 The 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 $1,000 for tips leading to the arrest of individuals charged with a crime in any of the five Lowcountry counties that it serves.
Our only goal is to assist law enforcement, but the tipster never identifies himself, and remains anonymous up to and including receipt of the reward money.
Nationally, Crime Stoppers began in Albuquerque, N.M., 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 cannot guarantee anonymity. If the police prosecute someone based on a single 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 protecting their anonymity.
By the terms of its operating bylaws, Crime Stoppers’ awards are limited to $1,000, 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 two recent cases of Matthew Renken, and young Marley Lion, friends and family of both victims have put up more than $10,000 which Crime Stoppers will add to its $1,000 reward if a tip to Crime Stoppers leads to an arrest of the persons responsible for either death.
Again, if the call goes to the police, the anonymity is not so easily 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 web site, we employ 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.
Waggoner Law Firm
Belle Hall Parkway