Citizens can help Crime Stoppers catch law breakers

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Crawford County Crime Stoppers board members pictured include Ryan Fradette, Stacy Polodna, Patti Schauf-Yager, Tina Sander and Chair Gary Knickerbocker. Additional board members include Vice-Chair Lauren Knutson, Secretary Mary Ann Heisz, Treasurer Mark Forsythe, Norb Aschom, Chad Abram, Pat Boldt, Wade Hutchison, Dale McCullick, Jaden McCullick, Caroline Mindham, Wayne Mindham, Orrin Olson, Bob Selch, Penny Selch, Terry Sprosty, Kyle Teynor and Helen Zabel.

By Correne Martin

Crime Stoppers encourages members of the community to assist local law enforcement agencies in the fight against crime. This is achieved by overcoming two key elements that inhibit solving crime: fear and lack of interest/concern.

Crawford County Crime Stoppers, which is operated by a volunteer community board of directors, provides a toll-free phone number (866-779-PAYS) for citizens of any age, who may have information concerning a crime, to call. When a call is made to Crime Stoppers, the organization logs the date, time and information provided by the caller. A code number is assigned to that person so the entry can be logged. There is no pressure for the caller to reveal his or her identity; they remain completely anonymous.

“Tips with Crime Stoppers are always anonymous. There’s no need for people to give us their name,” Crime Stoppers Chair Gary Knickerbocker confirmed. “We’re here as citizens to help law enforcement do their job.”

If a caller’s information results in an arrest, recovery of stolen property, or apprehension of a criminal fugitive, arrangements are made so the person can receive a reward in cash and preserve their anonymity. “We have left the money at a certain location for them to pick up,” Knickerbocker added. The Wisconsin court system has upheld the privilege of anonymity in Crime Stoppers cases.

“I think that’s what [potential tipsters] are afraid of, remaining anonymous,” said Tina Sander, board member. “We don’t get a lot of tips. We’d like to see more.”

Rewards can be as much as $1,000, and the actual dollar amount is determined by a point system used by the Crime Stoppers Board. Points are assigned in different categories: type of crime, accuracy of information, personal risk, number of cases solved, property value loss, and property/narcotics/money recovered. The total point value is then converted into dollars, from $15 on up to $1,000. Once the board agrees to the point value and the reward in a case, the tipster is called back and they can then decide how they’d like to receive the money.

“Some people don’t even want a reward, they just want to help,” noted Patti Schauf-Yager, Crime Stoppers board member.

In some of the more extensive cases, a greater cash reward can be given to a tipster who helps solve the crime.

According to Knickerbocker, one such case that is still open is the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office case from Oct. 31, 2013, when equipment owned by Kozelka Family Farms was deliberately damaged while parked overnight in a cornfield along County E in Seneca Township. The equipment included two large, late-model John Deere tractors and a late-model John Deere combine, which sustained cut wiring harnesses, contaminated fuel and hydraulic tanks and deflated tires. Thanks to the owner of the equipment upping the cash reward, $25,000 is the potential payout for assistance in solving the case.

Two other high-profile cases that have yet to be officially resolved, according to Crime Stoppers member Chad Abram, include the stolen Wyalusing Academy bell and the more recent disappearance of the Sheckler Construction trailer and tools (information regarding the recovery of Sheckler’s stolen property may be released soon). “We still have rewards out for those cases as well,” stated Abram who, as the Prairie du Chien Police chief, also acts as a liaison between Crime Stoppers and the police department.

Calls to Crime Stoppers have helped solve a wide variety of cases across Wisconsin and the nation, including homicides, assaults, rapes, bank robberies, fugitive captures, auto thefts, burglaries, vandalism, kidnappings, weapons in schools, drug trafficking and other crimes.

History of Crime Stoppers
The Crime Stoppers program started in July of 1976, in Albuquerque, N.M., when a university student was killed during a gas station robbery. After six weeks of investigation, the police had very few leads. Detectives believed those responsible for the crime were local people, that somebody must have information, and for some reason was unwilling to speak to the police.

Police investigators thought if the public was able to observe a reenactment of the crime on TV, this would lead to a citizen providing information that would lead to an arrest. An officer thought of a hotline for callers to pass on information anonymously, hoping this would allow people to tell what they knew. He persuaded local businesses to finance the scheme and a TV station to publicize it.

The police investigators were right. A caller contacted the police the day after seeing the reenactment. The tip information was enough to lead the police to the two men who were responsible. Within 72 hours of the reenactment’s airing, the police solved the murder. Unexpectedly, information about many other crimes, some of which had not even been reported to the police, was also received on the hotline. The Crime Stoppers concept was born.

Wisconsin is celebrating its 25th anniversary of Crime Stoppers in the state. Since 1990, state organizations have accounted for over 7,000 arrests, helped solve about 8,000 outstanding cases, recovered $2.6 million in stolen property and confiscated $5.8 million in narcotics.

Local organization
The Crawford County Crime Stoppers board operates the local program, fundraising, public relations and approval of rewards. There are four official meetings of the board per year. Anyone interested in joining the board should contact Knickerbocker at 326-4063. No taxpayer dollars are used to fund the program; all funds are raised through donations from citizens and businesses in the area communities.
Crawford County Crime Stoppers is also on Facebook. Board members recently decided to relinquish the organization’s website, as they weren’t getting a lot of tips on there.

“We felt we had to do something different,” Knickerbocker said. “Due to all the hits law enforcement’s had on their Facebook page, we decided we’d like to be part of that.”

Facebook is used to release information regarding cases such as drug-related crimes, stolen items, burglaries, thefts, criminal damage to property and more. Warrant Wednesdays are a new thing started on the page that will interest the public. Tips can be left via private message there as well. Abram and Ryan Fradette, another board member, both run the Crime Stoppers Facebook page. “Only Ryan and I would see tips that are messaged,” Abram said. “And we cannot share that information with anyone.”

In the future, Knickerbocker said, Crawford County Crime Stoppers would also like to utilize a software program that would allow the public to text in their tips. Though, he said, the software is quite expensive, the entities that use it have noticed a big jump in the amount of tips received.

For now, the public is encouraged to get involved with helping solve crimes via the Facebook page and by calling the local phone number with tips at 326-8933 or (866) 779-7297.

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