- Associated Press - Saturday, July 12, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - University of New Mexico student Michael Carmen was working the late shift at a gas station in Albuquerque one evening in July 1976 when he was shot during an attempted robbery. He died four hours later.

Six weeks into the investigation, police still were no closer to solving the case. One of the detectives reached out to local media in the hopes that someone may have a tip.

The next day, a witness came forward. His information helped police solve the case.

And so the national Crime Stoppers organization was born.

After three decades in Sioux City, it still plays a critical role in funneling tips to police.

The Sioux City Journal reports (https://bit.ly/1m8qKdS ) the local Crime Stoppers is credited with solving more than 300 cases since its inception in 1982. Run by a group of volunteers, the organization pays cash rewards to anonymous phone tips called into the hotline, 712-258-8477.

An anonymous informant was paid $500 for information about a shooting on Oak Street in January. An informant provided information for a homicide three weeks later.

Awards are paid out only if a tip results in an arrest.

Officials say the hotline’s value lies not in the number of tips it generates, but in its ability to generate leads when cases are at a standstill.

“When we’ve hit a dead end or we need the assistance, and we put a call out, that’s when it’s the most helpful, because people will respond,” said Sioux City police Officer Chad Sheehan, who works with the group.

That’s what happened when Sioux City police were trying to solve a bizarre string of incidents during the early morning hours of May 25, 2012.

Witnesses told police a man assaulted a girl in her bedroom on Wall Street, broke into another house on South Alice Street, then fled after a girl screamed. He then was seen committing a lewd act on a porch on West Fourth Street.

Investigators had no idea who the person was until someone saw a suspicious-looking white Dodge Charger with Nebraska plates in Sergeant Bluff the night of the incidents. They reported it via the Crime Stoppers hotline.

That information led police to a 35-year-old Omaha man. He later was imprisoned for prowling in Omaha, though never charged in Sioux City.

“That information made the case,” said Sioux City police Chief Doug Young. “We had a citizen driving down the street in Sergeant Bluff and saw something that was out of place, and noted it. Without that we wouldn’t have been anywhere.”

Officials reached out to the tipster through local media because they wanted to talk about the information. Because the Crime Stoppers line is confidential, police didn’t have the person’s name or know how to contact them. Crime Stoppers paid $500 for the tip.

Unlike other crime-fighting tools like social media, which often have a name attached to the tipster, the Crime Stoppers hotline allows for anonymity. There is no caller ID and callers do not leave their name.

Once the information has been taken, the caller is assigned a tip number. This allows them to call back at a later date to see if their tip will result in a reward. If a reward is paid, they use the number to claim the reward - paid in cash - at a local bank.

Tips are sent to investigators working the case. Rewards are determined based on the type of crime and how helpful the information was to making the case.

The amount of each tip is determined by the Crime Stoppers’ board of directors. The board’s four-person executive committee approves time-sensitive awards.

Sometimes tips are good, but they come too late to qualify for a reward.

Seven tips came in to Crime Stoppers in February about a robbery at the Kum & Go convenience store at 2626 Court St. But no rewards were paid.

“They ended up being accurate, but they were after we had already identified the suspect,” said Sheehan, of the police department. “When we have already done the work, there won’t be a payout.”

Over the years, payouts for tips have ranged from a few hundred dollars to $1,000. Since 1982, Sioux City Crime Stoppers has paid out $34,250.

Most rewards are less than $500.

“We’ve paid out some thousand-dollar rewards during my time,” said Steve Boden, a member of the group’s executive committee. “Those are usually something that’s a really serious crime. Three-hundred-dollar, $400, $500 rewards are more common.”

However, officials say most people don’t ask for money. For that reason, Crime Stoppers doesn’t have to solicit money very often. If necessary, the group sends letters to area businesses seeking funds. That happens once every two to three years, Boden said.

Currently, the organization has $4,990.58 in the bank.

“Seventy-five to 80 percent of the callers don’t want a reward,” Boden said. “They just want to be able to call anonymously and give a tip.”

The few dozen board members of Crime Stoppers meet monthly to discuss the number of tips coming into the hotline and other law enforcement issues.

Rick Mullin, a board member and past president, said he and many other board members graduated from the Sioux City Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy. The experience gave Mullin an appreciation for public safety issues, he said.

His business, Mullin Awning and Siding Company, had contributed to the organization’s reward fund before Mullin joined. He has since retired.

“I already had an interest in these things and I like the idea of just grassroots people getting together to try to improve their neighborhoods and their cities and to try to find ways to stop crimes from happening,” Mullin said.

Crime Stoppers provides an important service and is a benefit to the community, said Young.

“It is a group of influential people within the city that have taken an interest in the safety of this community,” Young said. “Which is, obviously, great for law enforcement to have that kind of support. And also, (it provides) the ability for us to keep them updated on what’s going on.”

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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