Crime Starts with Crime Stoppers?

In many U.S. cities, police conducting criminal investigations are aided by members of the community who have inside information on criminal activity. Often, programs are organized so that citizens can make anonymous phone calls to alert law enforcement officials about crimes, missing persons, wanted individuals and more. In Jacksonville, Florida, the organization is called First Coast Crime Stoppers. But it isn’t always where crime ends.

According to the Florida Times-Union, Crime Stoppers may have been recently victimized by criminal scammers in what looks like a highly ironic incident.

Apparently, a December caller announced that a police officer for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and an accomplice were abusing the Crime Stoppers system to collect reward money, which can be as much as $1,000 per tip that leads to an arrest.

It seems that the caller suggested a detective in the narcotics department had been giving insider information to a woman outside the police force. With details such as the locations of specific crimes, the accomplice allegedly called in and gave Crime Stoppers information about arrests that had not yet occurred, but were about to.

Then, it seems, she collected reward money.

The executive director of First Coast Crime Stoppers is quoted as saying he isn’t sure whether the organization lost money on the scam or even whether or not the tip about the officer was even valid. An investigation of the officer, who has reportedly been put on desk duty, is underway.

But such weaknesses in the program could be troubling, as Crime Stoppers reportedly gave away about $200,000 in reward money last year, for phone calls that led to nearly 450 arrests. Part of the reason the system works, according to sources, is that it protects caller’s anonymity at all costs.

Otherwise, callers would probably be less likely to report on evidence for certain crimes, for fear of retribution.

Since its inception, police have evidently relied on information from Crime Stoppers to aid their criminal investigations – cops give out the phone number and website information in public announcements and during television spots reporting on criminal activity in the area.

Crime Stoppers organizations began in 1976 as a way to allow community members aid police with criminal cases without putting themselves in danger. Since the inception of the original Crime Stoppers program in Albuquerque, New Mexico, many cities with similar organizations have noticed lowered crime rates.

Worldwide, Crime Stoppers programs have helped police solve more than one million criminal investigations and have given more than $85 million in reward money.