In their battle against violence, Omaha police confront a new and elusive culprit — lies about Omaha Crime Stoppers.
Gang members are intimidating witnesses by telling them that Crime Stoppers isn't as anonymous as the public thinks — that anyone who calls in a tip will be found out.
Police and Crime Stoppers officials say the lies are aimed at silencing neighborhoods terrorized by gang members.
“We're hearing that there have been violent crimes and homicides that we haven't gotten good tips on, and we are concerned,” said Doug Parrott, a Crime Stoppers board member. “There's fear that there could be retribution, and that is simply not true.”
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer counts gang-related homicides among the most difficult to solve, at least in part because witnesses fear being targets themselves. That makes stopping lies about Crime Stoppers all that much more important, authorities said.
“These are the battles we are trying to fight,” said Officer James Shade, a police spokesman and liaison to Crime Stoppers.
Omaha Crime Stoppers was founded in 1982 under the same principle that guides the national, nonprofit parent organization: People will share information about crimes if they are motivated by the possibility of a reward and the guarantee of anonymity.
The Omaha organization is run by a private board separate from the Police Department.
Crime Stoppers is credited with helping Omaha police solve nearly 5,000 crimes in the past 30 years. The program has paid more than half a million dollars to tipsters during roughly the same period.
Parrott said Crime Stoppers works like this:
» Anyone with information about a crime can contact Crime Stoppers by phone, text or email. All messages are encrypted, meaning whoever takes the call or sees the text or email can't see where the tip is coming from.
» The tipster is never asked his or her name, phone number or location. Instead, each tipster is given a code number to use anytime he or she contacts Crime Stoppers.
» Police investigate the tip. If an arrest is made and charges are filed, the Crime Stoppers board agrees on a reward using information provided by police.
» Tipsters must check back with Crime Stoppers to see if their information led to an arrest. It it did, they will be told the amount of their reward and the name of the bank where they can claim it.
» At the bank, the tipster gives his or her code number and password to a specially designated bank teller, who hands over a cash reward. There is no paper trail to follow the tipster and no taxes to pay.
“We will never find out who you are,” Shade said. “We don't want to know who you are — we just want to know what information you have.”
Payouts vary depending on the crime. Information leading to a homicide arrest typically will be rewarded with $1,000. A gun-related arrest can carry rewards as high as $500. A misdemeanor arrest, such as failure to pay child support, can be $100.
In some cases, private donations can boost the reward amount. The highest potential reward currently offered by Crime Stoppers is for information in the 2008 Dundee slaying of a boy and his housekeeper. That reward could be as high as $54,000.
With every tip to Crime Stoppers, Shade said, people are making the city safer. “If the entire neighborhood stands up,” he said, “gangs have nowhere to hide.”
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