Crime doesn’t pay, but Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers (TCCS) does. The not-for-profit’s anonymous tip line allows citizens to be the eyes and ears for the police on the street and in their neighborhoods without putting them at risk or involving them in criminal prosecution proceedings.
Crime Stoppers’ premise – see something, say something – resonates with longtime TCCS board member Freddie Woolfork because silence helps criminals.
Woolfork says he was drawn to TCCS because the community program helps people provide anonymous information about criminal activity. “We provide the vehicle for that citizen calling in and helping us to connect the criminal to the crime. It’s very effective.”
The reminder that Crime Stoppers is out there increases visibility, provides an outlet for citizens witnessing crimes and reminds criminals that somebody is always watching.
“We give people a voice who might not always have one. They might be afraid to call the police,” explains Russ Marcham, TCCS tip coordinator of the not-for-profit’s mission to help solve crime in the community and assist in apprehending criminal suspects fleeing from the justice system.
The not-for-profit works with 18 law enforcement agencies on the Treasure Coast and the FBI. Working closely with local law enforcement, Marcham says, “We’re another tool in their toolbelt.”
A tip about a recent bank robbery in Indian River County led to the identification, and subsequent arrest of the bank robber, recalls Rick Vidiri, TCCS executive director. “I received the tip on Sunday, and by Tuesday, he was in custody.”
Additionally, the monthly breakfast meetings held on the third Friday of each month at the St. Lucie Draft House – on hold due to COVID – encourages collaboration across county lines between local and federal law enforcement and civilian crime watch groups. The relationships allow for interagency sharing of information that results in solving crimes.
One notable case, shares Vidiri, involved the theft of copper pipe. The tip resulted in solving 26 burglaries from multiple counties.
The anonymity afforded via online and toll-free hotline avenues creates a buffer for tipsters, allowing them to provide crime-solving assistance while eliminating direct involvement in the investigative process.
Tipsters are rewarded for information that leads to an arrest, whether or not the criminal is convicted.
Each tip is reviewed to ensure that it is stripped of any identifying information about the tipster.
Crime Stoppers’ tips help law enforcement take dangerous criminals off the street. Thousands of tips over the years have aided in the arrest and conviction of criminals involved in murders, robberies, rapes, assaults, drugs, firearms and more.
Tipsters are paid based on an arrest, not a conviction, clarifies Vidiri. “If the charges get dropped later on, you’re still going to get paid. We don’t typically go a month without a payout.”
Often, the tipster is eligible for a reward, but they choose not to collect the money, saying, “I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m not interested in the money,” relays Vidiri.
The program is funded through a grant from the Office of the Attorney General in Tallahassee. Longtime supporter and board member, Bruce Colton, state attorney, says, “It’s very helpful to have the tips. The people are anonymous, so we don’t have to list them as witnesses. Through the years, defense lawyers through the courts have tried to find out who the tipster was, but we don’t even know who the tipster is.”
Additionally, says Colton, “The tips help solve crimes from petty theft and shop lifting all the way up to murder a lot more quickly. We have had tips on murder cases that have led to arrests and, ultimately, convictions. It runs the whole gamut.”
Private donations supplement the grant, allowing the board to use the discretionary account to fill funding gaps and increase payouts on high-value tips, like murder and rape, shares Timothy Longden, TCCS board president. “Without private donations we would not be able to operate our program. Donations are tax deductible as we are a 501(c)3 corporation.”
Covid has affected grant funding, explains Longden. “Our money comes from the defendants. When they are arrested, and they go in front of the judge, he fines them $20,” with $3 going to the court clerk for handling the paperwork and the remaining $17 to Tallahassee. A portion of the proceeds are used to manage the grant program, with the remainder going to the arresting county’s Crime Stoppers, in this case, Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie or Okeechobee.
The court system has been down for months and is only functioning marginally, notes Longden. “Now they [criminals] are not going in front of the judge, so the money is getting scarce.”
Call 1-800-273-TIPS (8477), **TIPS, or visit TCWatch.org to leave a tip.
To learn more about Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers, visit TCWatch.org. Donations can be sent to Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers at 1872 94th Drive – C140 Vero Beach, FL 32966 or call 772-492-3487.