When police are trying to solve a crime or make an arrest, they often rely on the community to provide them with information regarding the crime or suspect. For almost 30 years, Bluegrass Crime Stoppers has given residents a way to communicate with police free from the fear of criminal retaliation.
Since its inception in 1987, Bluegrass Crime Stoppers has built a partnership among the police, the community and the media to solve crimes in the Lexington area.
People with information on crimes or suspects are encouraged to call the Crime Stoppers' tips line. Calls are not recorded, and there is no caller ID to reveal the tipster's identity, ensuring anonymity. This allows tipsters to give information without fear of retribution from those involved with the crime.
Those with information can also fill out a form on the website, in case they want to keep the sound of their voice concealed as well.
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Tipsters can earn a cash reward of $1,000 for providing information that leads to an arrest in a crime of the week, and $500 for a tip that leads to an arrest of a most-wanted person. The payment process is kept confidential to protect the tipsters and their identities.
"In today's age, money talks," said Lexington Detective Mark Thomas, the police coordinator for Bluegrass Crime Stoppers. "It helps to have a monetary incentive."
As of April 7, the program had helped police make 2,694 arrests, had led to 8,268 cases cleared, had paid out $514,070 in reward money and had helped recover $2,766,310.
Bluegrass Crime Stoppers releases information about the Crime of the Week on Tuesday and Most Wanted Person every Thursday to WLEX-18, WVLK-590 talk radio, the Lexington Herald-Leader and on social media.
The Crime Stoppers program is a not-for-profit organization that uses no tax dollars, and the reward money is provided exclusively by private donations.
Crime Stoppers programs can be found across the nation. Thomas said programs tend to be found in bigger cities. Louisville's program is called Kentuckiana Crime Stoppers.
All Crime Stoppers programs can trace their origins to 1975, when college student Michael Carmen was shot to death during a gas station robbery in Albuquerque, N.M.
The detective assigned to the case, Greg MacAleese, was short on leads. He asked a local television station to create a video re-enactment of the crime, promising anonymity to anyone willing to call in with information on the shooting and a reward paid from his own wallet.
Within hours after the re-enactment, MacAleese received a call from a source who had a description of a suspect's car and where it might be found. Within 72 hours, police arrested two men who were charged not just with Carmen's murder but with a string of armed robberies.
Thomas said that of all the tips they receive, about 20 percent lead to arrests.
"The problem is that a lot of times, people will have pieces of information. They'll have one piece of the puzzle, but they don't have quite enough for us to execute an arrest off of that," Thomas said. "It's up to us to take those little pieces of information, which may come off of several tips, and piece them all together to make one big picture, to develop probable cause, whether it's a robbery case, or a drug-related case or a most-wanted suspect."
In 2015, Bluegrass Crime Stoppers has led to the arrests of 46 people, half of whom were the most wanted person of the week. Those people were charged with 131 felonies and 44 misdemeanors.
The program has paid out $14,900 this year, which amounts to about $323 spent for each arrest. Thomas called it a good use of donated money.
"I don't know of any programs out there that are more valuable to the general public than Crime Stoppers," Thomas said. "For your money, what better return could you get on your dollar, than getting a sex offender off the street, or getting a rapist off the street?"