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Bill Seeks to Ease Organizing of Crime Stoppers in Mississippi

February 10, 2002
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Bill Seeks to Ease Organizing of Crime Stoppers in Mississippi

by Jack Elliott Jr., Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A Crime Stoppers program was credited by Coahoma County Sheriff Andrew Thompson in April with helping solve the murder of a Clarksdale woman.

In 1996, a tip to the Greenville Crime Stoppers led to the arrest of two people embezzling money from car tag receipts.

Crime Stoppers programs, which number some 1,500 nationwide, operate hot lines that take anonymous tips about crimes and criminals and provides rewards of up to $1,000.

While working closely with law enforcement agencies, Crime Stoppers is a separate, nonprofit undertaking that depends on volunteers.

Funding for Crime Stoppers comes from a fee not to exceed $2 that is attached to convictions on misdemeanor violations, such as speeding tickets.

The idea has flourished in Mississippi over the past dozen years, with 25 programs in place serving 46 counties. Another program is expected soon in Tunica County.

Now, the success of Crime Stoppers has caught the eye of Mississippi lawmakers.

A bill moving through the Legislature would help local communities speed up the establishment of a Crime Stoppers in their towns.

In the past, citizen groups wanting to start a Crime Stoppers had to get approval one by one from the Legislature. The Senate bill would create a blanket Crime Stoppers law.

Sen. Glenn Hamilton, R-Maben, said the bill recognizes the success the programs have had around the state.

"This eliminates the counties and cities from having to come before us with local and private bills - sometimes two to three a year," Hamilton said. "This takes care of future programs that local communities want to establish and recognizes how extremely well they have worked."

The Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi Crime Stoppers Advisory Council will assist any community wanted to get started, said council chairman Rodney E. Frothingham, a Greenville physician.

"There are still some that don't have them and some areas where we are helping them get started," Frothingham said.

Frothingham and council vice chairman Charles N. Brown, who operates a security service in Starkville, said the Crime Stoppers organizations are keenly interested in the confidentiality of callers as well as program records.

Last summer, the Quincy, Ill., Crime Stoppers affiliate shut itself down after the identity of one of its tipsters was given to a defense attorney. The public defender said there should be no legal protection for anonymity especially when, as in that murder case, the tipster provided such clear details about the murder that the caller must have either witnessed the crime or talked to a witness.

"There are people out there who want to assist law enforcement, but they don't want to be dragged into court," Brown said. "We want to ensure the confidentiality as much as possible while recognizing that the laws of the state allow disclosure to a certain extent."

Brown said the program operates so well because callers know they will be protected.

Phone records from Crime Stoppers programs throughout the United States have been subpoenaed many times, officials say. Crime Stoppers has quashed them with the cooperation of the law enforcement groups seeking them, officials say.

Frothingham said if handled properly, Crime Stoppers never knows the identity of a caller.

"We never know their name. We never have their address. We never know anything about them except their information," he said. "We always tell them, 'We don't want your name. We want your information.'"

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