Special Report: To Catch a Crook

Everyday, police are out on the streets trying to stop crimes, but they cannot be everywhere. That is why they rely on citizens; a second pair of eyes on the streets.

The local Crime Stoppers program has played a huge role in helping put criminals behind bars. Last year, more than 177 crimes were solved, thanks to people phoning in tips.

One anonymous call is all it takes to put crooks like 21-year old Miranda Cisneros behind bars. She was convicted of shoplifting at a local store and running over several  employees as they tried to stop her. Even several bystanders were injured. But one Crime Stoppers tip helped identify Cisneros, and a second one put her behind bars.

"Some crimes would go unsolved if it weren't for Crime Stoppers," said Senior Officer Kirk Stowers of the Corpus Christi Police Department.

Hundreds of crimes are solved every year thanks to those tip calls. Just last year, Crime Stoppers received over 2,253 tips, 130 people were arrested and 177 cases were solved.

Here's how it all works.

First, Crime Stoppers is not a police department program.

"It's a community organization that is run by a community board," said Audrey Vicknair, chairwoman of the Corpus Christi Crime Stoppers. "It's not actually a part of the Corpus Christi Police Department."

It's average people who volunteer time coming together to stop crime.

"We are not part of the Corpus Christi Police Department," Vicknair said. "We are not funded by the Corpus Christi Police Department, and we are not funded by taxes."

These citizen volunteers are part of a non-profit organization. They determine ways to promote Crime Stoppers and raise funds for rewards. Even with money from probation fees, it is not enough to cover all the tips paid out.

"If they are put on probation, they are ordered to pay probation fees. Some of those fees will go to Crime Stoppers," Vicknair said. That money is put in a special account and it is used to pay rewards for the folks to call in with tips."

Crime Stoppers works with the CCPD so that the right officers get the tips. The tip line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The call center dispatcher provides the tipster with a control number so the tip can be tracked.

Because the CCPD does not know the tipster's identification, the person has to call a different number to check the status of the tip.

The call center formulates the information into a computer program. That's where Senior Officer Stowers comes in. As the liaison for Crime Stoppers, he reviews the tips, sending them to the detectives working the case.

"Once they make use of that information, they let me know if it was a good tip or not good information," Stowers said.

To get the reward, a tip must lead to an arrest. If so, the board approves the reward and the size of it.

"Based upon the crime that is solved, there is a certain amount of money that is rewarded," Vicknair said.

The reward can be up to $1,000. Last year, about $20,000 in tip money was paid out.

Between the calls coming in everyday, Officer Stowers and Crime Stopper board member Heidi Garcia of Kiii-TV produce the Crime of the Week to run on television.

"Usually they say they just need a little more information on this," Stowers said.

Then, it's up to Stowers and Garcia to come up with a reenactment of the crime using volunteer actors.

"We need to hold people accountable for their actions. That their criminal activity is not acceptable, so that they don't go victimize someone else," Stowers said.

The popular way to submit tips is by phone, 361-888-TIPS, but there is also e-mail at www.888tips.com, and even a mobile app called TipSubmit. They are all tools for the public to provide anonymous information leading to a good chunk of cash, and a crook behind bars.


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