When DNA evidence is contaminated or additional evidence is limited, how do detectives solve the case? It was a question that Detective Greg MacAleese from the Albuquerque Police Department had in the summer of 1976 when he was assigned the case of Michael Carmen, a local college student who was robbed and shot to death while working at a gas station.
Months after the murder of Carmen, MacAleese and his colleagues still had no leads. With limited evidence, MacAleese grew frustrated. He knew that someone had information that would lead to an arrest, but he needed to figure out how he could get that information.
In the hopes that it would establish a lead, MacAleese produced a video re-enactment of the homicide and had the clip air on a local television station. In the re-enactment, he also guaranteed anonymity and a cash reward to anyone who could provide information leading to an arrest. Following the airing of the video, MacAleese received a tip that led to the arrest of two suspects within 72 hours. Both suspects were charged with the murder of Michael Carmen and a string of armed robberies.
Due to MacAleese’s determination to solve Carmen’s murder and his innovative thinking, Crime Stoppers was established on September 8th, 1976. The program was built on the partnership between local law enforcement agencies, the public, and the media, to help solve cases. Crime Stoppers also gave members of the public an opportunity to submit tips anonymously and be rewarded if their tip led to an arrest.
Today, Crime Stoppers is an international program with coordinators all over the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and the South/Western Pacific. Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County was formed in January of 2001. Currently, Jamie Smith, serves as the Crime Stoppers Coordinator for Pinellas County and she is assigned within the Public Relations Bureau of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
“The fact that the community can submit tips, remain anonymous, and be rewarded if the tip leads to an arrest is pretty significant in helping law enforcement with their investigations,” Smith said.
More than 40 years later, Crime Stoppers continues to rely on the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies, the community, and the media to provide information to help solve cases. Last year, about 60 tips helped lead to an arrest throughout the county. Although Smith works out of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, she vets tips for local law enforcement agencies countywide.
Every day, in addition to reviewing tips, Smith also works on determining if submitted tips led to an arrest or were determined to be unfounded. Tips that lead to an arrest are eligible for a monetary reward. The amount is calculated by a software program based on several variables including the type of crime, number of charges, and the suspect’s overall risk to the community. Before the reward is given to the tipster, however, it is approved by the Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County Board of Directors, which is made up of members of the community including Smith.
Once approved, the tipster is able to claim their reward at a local bank by providing their unique tip number and password given to them at the initial submission of the tip.
While Smith reviews hundreds of tips each year, one she received in February of last year stands out. The St. Petersburg Police Department had published a news release asking for the community’s help in identifying a suspect in a double homicide. Soon after, Crime Stoppers received a tip that detailed the clothes that the suspect had on. After forwarding the tip to St. Petersburg detectives, they managed to find the suspect’s clothes in a dumpster just 30 minutes before Waste Management was scheduled to empty the dumpster. Without the tip and a quick response from detectives, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence would have been destroyed and the case may have gone cold.
“Knowing that a bad guy is taken off the street based on an anonymous tip is the most rewarding part of my job,” Smith said. “Another, is being able to be a small piece of the puzzle in one of the most important parts of an investigation, which is gathering tips and potential leads.” To date, tips through Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County have led to over 1,100 arrests and more than $300,000 in rewards.
If you have information pertaining to a crime, you can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS or submit a tip online by visiting http://www.crimestoppersofpinellas.org/.
If you don’t have a tip to submit, but are interested in being a part of the Board of Directors you can call Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County at 727-582-5806.
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