Representatives from the Merced Area Crime Stoppers, which is geared toward solving crimes by offering monetary rewards to citizens who provide vital information, are asking for contributions to keep the program afloat.
Former Los Banos Police Chief Michael Hughes and Pat Lunney, chief investigator at the Merced County District Attorney’s office, spoke to Soroptimist International of Los Banos on Monday as part of an effort to encourage service clubs to provide donations to the Crime Stoppers program.
The program, which officially launched in 2011, regularly profiles unsolved cases in the pages of the Enterprise, the Merced Sun-Star and other local media.
“We get anonymous tips,” Hughes said while describing the program. “We keep them anonymous so that if somebody calls in they don’t have to worry about their neighbors finding out about it, they don’t have to worry about gang members finding out. A lot of people are afraid to give tips because of repercussions.”
Hughes said callers speak with people in Canada as a way to ensure records will not be subject to American subpoenas. The callers who provide information are given a number and can call at a later date to find out if their information has resulted in an arrest. If an arrest has been made the person receives money.
Tips can also be received through texting and email.
Hughes said Merced Area Crime Stoppers receives unsolved cases from each law enforcement agency in Merced County.
“Everybody asked when we got this program started, ‘How much of this money is going to come back to Los Banos?” Hughes said. “The majority of it is going to Merced and Los Banos.”
In its three-year existence, Hughes said, Los Banos has received 46 anonymous tips.
Merced Area Crime Stoppers is operated by volunteers, not a government agency and relies on private donations. It began with $9,000. Lunney said rewards range from $250 to $1,000 depending on the type of crime the group is trying to solve. He said the Merced Area Crime Stoppers fund is now close to $3,000.
Lunney said it takes about $7,500 per year to run Crime Stoppers. He believes the program works. “There was a murder case in Los Banos that we were able to get the information to the appropriate agency and they made an arrest,” Lunney said.
Hughes said the more tips Crime Stoppers receives, the more money the program will need to operate. He hopes more donations are received from private citizens.
“If a whole bunch of people gave $5 or $10 we’d have a lot more money than if one service club gave $1,000,” Hughes said.
Crime Stoppers is a worldwide program that started in Arizona in 1976 when a graduate student was robbed and shot. The case was not solved until law enforcement asked the public for help.
“A lot of times people will say, ‘I don’t want to get involved’ or ‘I don’t care. ... but maybe I will if I can get money out of it,’” Lunney said.