Crime Stoppers moving into 21st century

DeWayne Bartels
CrimeStoppers is moving into the world of text tipping.

Keeping up with the technological communication advances of recent years has tested the resources of businesses, non-profits and consumers.

The board of Peoria Area Crime Stoppers, for a period of about three years, did not even try to keep up. It has paid a price for that decision.

Peoria Police Crime Stoppers liaison Doug Burgess and Peoria Area Crime Stoppers Board member Dan Dickerson said because of that failure the crime tip effort has suffered a local fall-off.

“We forgot phone booths are disappearing,” Dickerson, a North Peorian said. “People are going to cell phones and texting. We weren’t up with what was happening.”

Peoria Area Crime Stoppers is now playing catch-up.

On the map

Crime Stoppers was born 33 years ago this week.

Burgess and Dickerson said they hope to see their technological upgrade effort restore the relevance to Peoria Area Crime Stoppers it once enjoyed.

“In ‘08 we issued only 389 numbers to anonymous tipsters. That’s why we started looking into innovative ways to get Crime Stoppers back on the map,” Burgess said.

That, he and Dickerson said, means offering a Web presence and more.

“That’s why we’re going to text-tipping,” Burgess said. “It’s what kids do. It’s their speed.”

Burgess said Crime Stoppers brings results.

The 389 calls in 2008, he said, resulted in solving 70 local crimes.

“It’s solved some big cases. A month or so ago someone called and tipped us to three convicted felons in a home,” Burgess said. “We caught them with guns, drugs and $13,500 in cash.”

Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons deserves credit for the technological re-building effort, Dickerson said.

A few years ago the Crime Stoppers board decided it wanted to do away with telephone solicitation of funds and decided to go the direct mail route.

That effort did not go over well.

Funding dropped off dramatically.

With no government funding, the board found itself financially tested.

Lyons came to the rescue.

Dickerson said Lyons petitioned and received the go-ahead from the chief judge to divert some funding from fines associated with arrests to Crime Stoppers.

That funding, donations, and money raised this year from a sports auction has helped Peoria Area Crime Stoppers climb out of a financial hole.

“Kevin has been real good helping us,” Dickerson said, “We’re getting funding now to expand into the technology we need. We have the money now to really start pushing our name again.”

Re-building trust

Dickerson, a retired assistant Peoria police chief, said he has been involved with Crime Stoppers since its inception here.

Dickerson said he saw the results of Crime Stoppers while commanding the vice and narcotics and detective bureaus.

“I think the local statistics bear out it’s a successful program,” he said. “But, in the past two or three years there’s been a big drop-off in tips. Part of that is our lack of technology. Part of it is a build-up of mistrust in the program. People think we can get their phone number.”

Burgess said a public relations effort is needed to get the message out that even with the advent of better technology the local police are not able to trace where tips come from.

Dickerson said, if anything, advances in technology have enhanced the ability to hide the identity of tipsters.

For example, Burgess said, anyone texting a tip to the Peoria number of Crime Stoppers has that number wiped clear twice by a computer.

The text message is then routed to a computer in Canada, which assigns it a number, but before the message is routed to Peoria that first number is wiped clear and another number assigned to it.

“That’s why Crime Stoppers works,” Burgess said. “How can you try to trace that?”

Dickerson said the big test to see if the new technology resonates with young people and builds more trust in the program lies ahead.

He said an effort is underway at some area high schools to promote usage of Crime Stoppers. 

“The big test will be this fall as high school gets going,” he said. “High school students are so acclimated to technology.”