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Crime Stoppers: A way for ‘good citizens’ to aid police

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The phone prompt declares a brief message: “If this is an emergency, a crime is in progress or you are willing to reveal your identity, hang up and call 911.”

It’s the message that callers hear on the voicemail for the Salisbury-Rowan Crime Stoppers. The community-based initiative encourages the public to provide information on unsolved crimes and wanted suspects. Callers can also leave a message regarding people who have committed crimes but who have not been arrested.

The call goes to the voicemail prompt or is answered by a law enforcement officer. If an officer answers, the caller is immediately encouraged to not reveal their identity, even if asked.

All tipsters are anonymous. The only identification given is a secret code, explained Mike Jones, chair of the Crime Stoppers board of directors.

The officer takes down information about the crime and then passes it along to the appropriate law enforcement agency — Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Salisbury Police or other county police departments.

The decision to make a reward available to a tipster solely rests with the civilian board of directors. Law enforcement provide general arrest reports of the case, essentially to verify for the board of directors that the crime was solved.

Tipsters have to call back to learn if their tip was successful, led to an arrest, seizure of illegal drugs or a solution to the crime and possibly made the caller eligible for a reward.

No money exchanges hands from law enforcement or board of directors to the anonymous tipster. The tipster gives a code to a local bank; no identification is required, just the code. The bank teller does not ask questions, just hands over the money.

“It’s been several over the years,” Jones said of the number of rewards given out.

Jones said on average the rewards are from $150 to $250 each, but the most recent reward that’s being facilitated by the nonprofit was not financed by Crime Stoppers. After seeing little activity in the way of response following the shooting death of 7-year-old A’yanna Allen, the Rowan County commissioners and city of Salisbury officials offered a $20,000 reward.

The reward was a way to motivate someone with information to speak up. The terms of the reward require that information must lead to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

The young girl was shot and killed while asleep in a bedroom she shared with her grandmother, Shirley Robinson. The shooting occurred Dec. 4, about four hours after someone shot Sharod R. Mathis, 22,  in the parking lot of Firewater Restaurant and Lounge.

Police have since confirmed the shooting at the Avalon Drive restaurant was connected to the little girl’s murder. Police have made one arrest in connection with the Firewater shooting. Savannah Maria Queen, 21, was charged with lying to police about a gun being at the scene and then removing that gun.

Investigators have said a fight preceded the shooting at the Salisbury restaurant.

Prior to the reward offered in the A’yanna Allen murder, the largest award the local Crime Stoppers had ever given was $1,000 and before that $500.

Nationally, Crime Stoppers has been around since the 1970s and locally since about the 1990s. The current board has five people, but can accept up to 11 people. Each board member serves two consecutive three-year terms.

The board raises its own funds, which are used for rewards.

“There are times when we wish we could do more,” Jones said.

But the board does accept contributions and is working toward some potential fundraising projects.

To make a contribution to Crime Stoppers, mail donations to Salisbury-Rowan Crime Stoppers, P.O. Box 395, Salisbury, NC 28145.

Jones estimates that 75 percent of the calls to Crime Stoppers are from people who don’t seek a reward, but who just want authorities to have the information and to follow up with an investigation.

“The vast majority of people are trying to be good citizens,” he said.

Individuals can offer a reward and Crime Stoppers will facilitate it.

Until recently, tipsters could only contact Crime Stoppers via its 800 number, but they now have an online presence.

Jones said they were contacted by Landis Police Detective Roger Hosey, who has vast knowledge of computers. Hosey attended a couple of Crime Stoppers meetings and suggested an online version.

“I know of a system getting rave reviews,” Jones said Hosey told them.

The initial cost of the online program was $1,800, Jones said.

Jones estimates about half the tips now come from the web. The Crime Stoppers website has been around since April 2016 and its Facebook page since 2015.

The majority of tips to Crime Stoppers concern information on drug offenses, homicides, warrants and other crimes.

As of Dec. 14, Crime Stoppers has received 52 calls or web tips about drugs since Jan. 1 and 18 homicide calls or tips. According to statistics provided by Crime Stoppers they’ve received 24 “other” complaints/tips and 14 involve warrants.

Other tips are for conspiracies, thefts, assaults, prostitution, robberies, shootings, theft or traffic related.

How to report a crime via Crime Stoppers:

• 1-866-639-JAIL (5245)

• email: crimestoppers@salisburync.gov

• tips.salisburyrowancrimestoppers.org

•  www.facebook.com/SalisburyRowanCrimeStoppers

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