How Citizen Tipsters in Mississippi Help Stop Crime

February 9, 2010

Crime prevention takes more than the work of law enforcement officers. Mississippi citizens are also doing their part through a program called Crime Stoppers.

The Golden Triangle Crime Stoppers has been in existence since 1991. It serves six counties — Clay, Lowndes, Monroe, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Winston.

Terrie Songer and Travis Robertson of the Columbus Police Department are involved with the program, which pays up to $1,000 to anonymous tipsters who provide information about crime activities.

“Most of the time, the people who call in do not leave their name. They can tell us what is happening, where, why and anything else we need to know. We document this so we can turn this in to the Crime Stoppers board of directors,” Robertson said.

Robertson said they find out if this happens in the city or the county and pass it on to the police department or sheriff’s department, depending on where the activity occurs.

Through a call to Crime Stoppers, the local Habitat for Humanity organization was recently able to recover a stolen trailer at a project they were working on in Caledonia, Robertson said.

“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department investigators worked the case, and through the tip from Crime Stoppers, they were able to make an arrest and get the property back to Habitat,” he said.

Chadquian Emerson of Starkville and Ibe Conbingo Walker of were arrested in the case. Emerson is charged with felony taking of a motor vehicle and grand larceny. Walker is charged with burglary of a business.

The trailer contained some tools that were not recovered, Robertson said.

Crime Stoppers has a board of directors, and there are meetings once a month to go over the progress of the program.

“Fred Bell, a former city councilman, is on the board, and is dedicated to the organization,” Robertson said.

Bell serves as treasurer for Crime Stoppers, and has been a member since its inception.

Former Columbus Police Chief and current Lowndes County Adult Detention Center Jail Administrator Billy Pickens serves as president. He said police chiefs and sheriffs from the six counties also are on the board.

“They are automatically placed on the board, and we also try to have bankers and other business people to serve, too. We ask people if they would be interested to serve on the board,” Pickens said.

He said they also get recommendations of others who would be interested to serve in an at-large position.

Many of the meetings are held in West Point, he said. Once each quarter, the meeting is moved to others areas. At these meetings, the Crime Stoppers coordinators go over what calls they received during the month as well as how may arrests were made.

“In January, we had a meeting in Louisville in Winston County. In February, it will come back to West Point,” he said.

Pickens said he has been involved with the program before he became chief of police in 1999.

“I believe Crime Stoppers is a good program for the public and it allows people to divulge information, which is kept confidential,” he said.

Bell said anonymous tipsters are paid if an arrest has been made as a result of their tips. He said sometimes more than one tip on the same criminal activity is called in.

“The one who gives the most information will receive the tip. How they receive the tip is they are given a special code number which is known only to Crime Stoppers and to them. A check is then sent to a financial institution who we cannot divulge due to confidentiality,” he said.

The funding for Crime Stoppers comes from money received from different departments that issue citations for any type of moving violation, Bell said.

“They charge anywhere from 50 cents to $1 extra, and that goes into the Crime Stoppers fund. The one thing we ask of the law enforcement people who serve on the board, they can’t vote on the reward money paid to tipsters, because it is a conflict of interest,” he said.

Robertson said he and Songer rotate the Crime Stoppers phone each week.

Songer and Robertson said it is important to let the public know through television and newspapers about the work of Crime Stoppers.

“This is a good way for the public to learn about the program and to get involved. We need the public’s help, and through Crime Stoppers they can,” Robertson said.

“We want to continue to do what we can to encourage people to participate,” Songer said, noting Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John also believes in the program.

“Chief St. John strongly supports the program. He believes in it as we do,” she said.

St. John describes the Crime Stopper program as a “valuable tool” for his department in its efforts to work closely with other area law enforcement agencies.

“It helps make for good solid relationships between the city and county law enforcement agencies, and it allows citizens to contribute in the efforts of preventing crime,” he said.

Robertson said the program is a positive thing for the community as well as law enforcement

“This is something I strongly believe in, and I am glad it is something our department is part of. I am proud of the fact Terrie and I have the opportunity to work with these agencies,” he said.

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