Thursday, November 21, 2013
You’ve seen it at the end of a number of stories in The Star: “Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call CrimeStoppers of the Midlands at 888-CRIME-SC.” But what happens after you call and leave a tip?
Many people may not be aware they can also text their tips, along with “TIPSC,” to CRIMES (274637), or submit their tip online at www.midlandcrimestoppers.com. However it’s submitted, everything is completely anonymous, according to Capt. Chris Cowan of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, who also serves on the board of directors for CrimeStoppers of the Midlands. The Midlands program is one of 11 independently-run programs in South Carolina.
“The email and text go through a server in Canada and are actually scrambled, so there’s no way for us to be able to track an IP address or phone number on where a tip is coming from,” Cowan said, adding that if a person who only speaks Spanish calls the tip line, they are transferred to a Spanish-speaking operator.
The tips are typed into a computer database and then transferred to the respective law enforcement agency for officers to investigate. If the tip leads to an arrest, the tipster can receive up to $1,000.
“We don’t wait for a conviction; it’s for the arrest,” Cowan said. “Let’s say somebody gives enough information for an investigator to get a search warrant or for an investigator to identify a suspect; we’ve often paid out to that to encourage tipsters to call back with additional information.”
To determine how much a tipster receives as a reward, the board of directors for each program meets once a month and decides, based on the information that the law enforcement agency returns to CrimeStoppers, according to Cowan.
“This tip number, XYZ, led to the arrest of John Doe, this person was arrested; this property was recovered; these drugs were received,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll have an arrest that clears multiple cases.”
If multiple tipsters provide the same tip, CrimeStoppers can only pay the first tip that led to the arrest, Cowan said.
Anyone who calls, texts or emails a tip is asked to provide as much information as possible about the crime. After submitting your tip, you’ll be given a tip ID number and will have to call back and verify that it was your tip that led to the arrest.
“If it did, they’re given information to contact another number at a later time on a specific date to make arrangements to be paid, using that tip number,” Cowan said. “There are several layers to it. All the layers include having to use that tip number.”
If your tip leads to an arrest, make sure you never identify yourself as the tipster.
“If, for some reason, a tipster was identified, the board does not pay that out,” Cowan said. “The integrity of the program, the longevity of the program, is sustained because of the anonymity of the program.”
The integrity and longevity of the program have gotten it through more than 30 years in the Midlands, where it serves 16 counties including Aiken, Barnwell, Edgefield, Saluda, Richland and Lexington counties. Since 1982, more than 86,000 tips have been received in the Midlands, clearing more than 20,000 cases and resulting in nearly $900,000 in payouts.
Since Nov. 1, 2012, there have been 12 fugitives arrested in the Aiken area, thanks to CrimeStoppers, according to Cowan.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.