Crime Stoppers USVI, the charity that gives cash rewards for anonymous crime tips, announced Monday it is closing up shop, saying V.I. police arrests and convictions from Crime Stoppers tips have slowed down so much that people are not bothering to call in tips as much anymore.
Crime Stoppers USVI will be entering a suspended status for six months, following up on existing tips, arrests and rewards, but they will not be taking new crime tips. If the V.I. Police Department is able to dedicate someone to make sure tips are followed up, the organization will consider resuming activities.
In a press conference Tuesday, Crimes Stoppers USVI board member Julien Henley said the number of tips and rewards was excellent the first few years, then dropped off sharply.
"Understanding the value of having citizens anonymously provide information for law enforcement, then-Commissioner James McCall was very enthusiastic," Henley said. McCall assigned Lt. Tom Hannah as a full time Law Enforcement Coordinator, whose role was to assign every Crime Stoppers tip within the VIPD or to outside law enforcement. Then, in 2010, because of the high volume of tips and changes in VIPD management, the commissioner assigned a coordinator for the St. Thomas-St. John district.
"Our ratio of tips received to payment-of-rewards wasn’t what we thought it could be, but the numbers held steady," Henley said, adding that tips began declining in 2012.
"The number of tips received started slowing down dramatically, and we believe it was partially due to a lack of feedback from law enforcement. If tips are not investigated and feedback isn’t provided, we cannot pay a reward for the information. We have been accused by citizens more than once of ‘not doing our job and arresting people,’ when in fact that has never been our job," Henley said.
“Our job was and is to collect information anonymously and pass it on to law enforcement. Unfortunately we’ve had no control over how or if the information is investigated," Henley said.
In 2009 Crime Stoppers got 506 tips, which led to 75 arrests and $19,000 in rewards paid out, according to statistics provided by Crime Stoppers USVI board chairwoman, former Sen. Judi Buckley. That comes out to a 15 percent arrest ratio. Arrests declined quickly and steadily, with tips beginning to decline more gradually at first, then sharply the last two years.
In 2010 there were 423 tips that led to 26 arrests – a 6 percent ratio. Things got a little better in 2011, with 495 tips leading to 46 arrests. Then tips began dropping off, to 260 in 2012, rising a bit, then dropping to 199 in 2014 and 69 for the first half of 2015. Meanwhile arrests dropped to 27 in 2012; 24 in 2013 and a mere 11 in 2014 – around 6 percent. Only five arrests were made on the 69 tips so far in 2015, according to Crime Stoppers’ statistics.
Since its inception, Crime Stoppers has received 2,272 tips that led to 214 arrests.
"Over the six years we’ve been in operation, we have worked with six different commissioners and eight law enforcement coordinators within VIPD. We understand their challenges and the setbacks they have experienced due to mandates of the federal consent decree, budget cuts and attrition. Regretfully these challenges have greatly hindered our ability to be effective. For this reason, we decided to close our doors. Effective tomorrow, July 1, Crime Stoppers USVI will no longer be active," Henley said Tuesday.
He said Crime Stoppers will reassess after six months. "It will be based on law enforcement’s level of engagement and commitment, and our own board’s level of motivation to operate under these challenging circumstances," Henley said, before thanking all those in the community who gave their time, money, expertise and other resources to help Crime Stoppers’ mission.
Asked if it was fair to say the VIPD had stopped following up on Crime Stoppers tips, Buckley said in an email that "No, that’s not fair at all. They follow up on some tips, but not all."
Asked if police engagement was the only hurdle to Crime Stoppers staying in operation, she said, "Right now, yes."
"The reason is that VIPD hasn’t hired or identified anyone in the (department) that is dedicated solely to Crime Stoppers. We’ve been assigned several law enforcement coordinators over the years whose hearts are in the right place, but they have other responsibilities and just don’t have the time to follow through on all of the tips," Buckley said.
Asked what would help get Crime Stoppers going again, she said, "It would take a strong commitment from VIPD to assign or hire someone whose only job is to be the liaison between VIPD and Crime Stoppers USVI. In the absence of that, we will never be sustainable."
That could happen. According to Buckley, police officials have said they are willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the program, within their own constraints.
Crime Stoppers USVI started its local phone tip line in 2009. (See Related Links below) The Crime Stoppers phone line (1-800-222-TIPS) allowed citizens to help get criminals, drugs and guns off the streets, with callers never having to identify themselves or testify in court.
The service also offered cash rewards of up to $2,500 for completely anonymous tips leading to the arrest of criminals or the confiscation of significant amounts of illegal weapons or contraband.
The program is run by a local, private nonprofit organization, not the police department, and the tip line goes to a service in the Untied States mainland and cannot be traced.
The local chapter was set up in part to help allay the fears of some residents that information provided to the police might get back to the criminals in question.