When crime pays: How NJ crime-stoppers hotlines really work
They’re working behind the scenes with local residents, helping take a bite out of crime in communities across the Garden State.
Crime Stoppers organizations are operating in all New Jersey counties, and some larger municipalities have their own groups as well.
“The idea is to provide an incentive for tipsters to come forward and give information about a crime without revealing their identity because sometimes there’s the fear of reprisal,” said Capt. Chris Penna of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, who runs that county's Crime Stoppers program.
He said a key component of the program is that tipsters don’t have to reveal their identity.
“When they call our 1-800 number or text a tip or they visit our website, they’re guaranteed complete anonymity,” said Penna.
Despite the rewards, the majority of tipsters aren’t in it for the money.
“We’ve had 32 arrests since the inception of our program in 2011, and we’ve paid out 10 reward pay outs to tipsters,” he said.
A reward is offered for information leading to an arrest, not necessarily a conviction.
“Sometimes people don’t want reward money, but in other cases people are very interested in it,” said John Harmon, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Greater Trenton Crime Stoppers in Mercer County.
He explained once a tip is received and an arrest is made in the case, the information is then entered into a computer software program and a reward range is then suggested.
“The board will then decide what that amount should be or if we should exceed that amount,” he said.
Harmon noted a $1,000 reward is typically reserved for a very violent offense like a murder or a vicious assault.
So once you give the tip, how do you get the cash?
Penna said once an arrest is made and someone is eligible to receive a reward, the individual is given a tip code number.
“We would then tell the tipster to come to a certain bank at a certain time. When they come to the bank they would have to have the exact amount of the reward and their tip number, and then they get the money,” he said.
Harmon explained the Crime Stoppers board of directors is responsible for most fundraising activities, and the majority of contributions come from private businesses and companies, because “cracking down on crime is good for everybody.”
“We’ve been in existence for 15 years and in that time we’ve paid out $20,000 for information that’s resulted in 91 arrests, with 35 convictions, more than $40,000 in drugs and property seized and 27 weapons taken off the streets,” he said. “In the case of making a community safe, any little bit helps and I think this is just another resource.”
“The police cannot do it alone,” said Penna. “No matter how well-equipped a police department is, we rely on input from the community.”
Crime Stoppers programs in New Jersey and across the nation usually cap reward money at $1,000, but sometimes additional funds are added by other groups and entities, especially when a crime is particularly heinous.
If you call the national Crime Stoppers number, 1-800-222-TIPS, the call will usually be routed to the county or local organization in your area code.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.