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Crime Stoppers hopes to raise profile
J.R. Powell, director of the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center, stands behind the Crime Stoppers phone and call log in the 911 Center. Crime Stoppers is trying to become more visible in the community in hopes of helping law enforcement. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Crime Stoppers wants to increase its profile in the community and educate residents about its mission of helping local law enforcement agencies keep Martinsville-Henry County a safe place to live, work and raise a family.
Thomas Davis is president of the 12 to 17-member board that oversees the organization that began locally in 1982 as an additional tool for law enforcement.
Although it is most often included in news stories about crime — “Rewards of up to $1,000 are available through Crime Stoppers for information related to unsolved crimes. The amount of any reward is determined by the nature of the crime and the substance of the information provided” — the agency has kept a low profile in the community in years past.
“We want to let the public know who we are,” Davis said of the agency that has no assets, no overhead (aside from a single telephone line) and no paid staff. It is operated completely by volunteers and entirely sustained by the community, he said.
“We are a group of local residents” who care about the community and work hand-in-hand with law enforcement to help keep it safe, Davis said.
A majority of the other board members are not in law enforcement or a related field but represent various sectors of the community, board members said.
Henry County Sheriff’s Lt. Ben Rea and Martinsville Police Capt. Eddie Cassady represent their respective offices and act as coordinators on the Crime Stoppers board, as does J.R. Powell, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center.
Community donations support Crime Stoppers, which uses the money to pay for a single line into the 911 Center. The line resembles a regular house phone, except that it does not have Caller ID.
Callers to that line can report information about a crime to 911 dispatchers, and do so anonymously, without ever giving their name, address, phone number of other identifying information.
Dispatchers assign a three- to four-digit “Informant’s Code” to anonymous callers, and tell callers to keep the number handy so they can collect their reward if and when an arrest/conviction is made.
The 911 Center or its dispatchers do not have the anonymous callers name; neither do law enforcement officers or even the Crime Stoppers board, which eventually pays out any rewards.
Dispatchers determine whether information provided is related to a city, county or state case, and then pass along the information to the correct law enforcement agency.
Investigators follow up on the information provided by callers, and if that information results in an arrest and/or conviction, the person who provided the information receives a reward.
If the information results in a county case being solved, Rea recommends the amount of a reward to the board; if it is a city case, Cassady makes the recommendation.
Each recommendation is handled on a case-by-case basis, and there is no average reward amount, Davis said.
Often, the board decides to increase the amount of a reward, according to Cassady and Rea. Board members also may decide to accept a recommendation, deny it or otherwise amend it, they said.
The “Informant Code” is then used to pay rewards through a process that will not be made public.
However, no one in the 911 Center, law enforcement or Crime Stoppers ever knows a caller’s identity.
“This board never knows the name of an individual” receiving a reward, Davis said. “All we know is the code.”
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said some anonymous callers do not want a reward, and are simply trying to help their community by “doing the right thing.”
Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said many residents “do not realize how valuable Crime Stoppers is to us in terms of trying to help solve major crimes. The rewards that are offered are a big motivating factor” in helping solve cases.
Perry also praised the organization.
“There’s a lot of organizations that help our community in very different ways, but this organization is focused on safety, and that’s foundational,” Perry said.
Both Perry and Rogers encourage the community to help support the agency’s annual fundraising campaign, which is underway.
Davis said the primary fundraising effort is sending letters to businesses that also benefit from a safe community. However, donations from individuals, other groups and organizations are appreciated.
Crime Stoppers also hopes to present programs to clubs, churches and other organizations, he said. To schedule a guest speaker for an event in a club, church, or other organization, call Rea at 656-4200 or Cassady at 403-5100.
Tax deductible contributions may be mailed to Martinsville-Henry County Crime Stoppers Program Inc., P.O. Box 3382, Martinsville, Va., 24115. The organization may be reached at 63-CRIME (632-7463).