There's a reason crimes publicized in El Paso County almost always include a plea for potential witnesses to call Pikes Peak Crime Stoppers.
"It's because they do (call). It works," program president Bonnie Johnson said.
About 2,000 people called the anonymous hotline last year to tip off law enforcement on wanted persons, stolen property, drugs, and even homicide suspects. All but about 16 of those tips led to an arrest, Johnson said.
In December, a caller led police to a homicide suspect, Johnson said, declining to elaborate. It was the second time in her seven years with Crime Stoppers that the program played a direct role in the capture of a suspected killer, she said.
"Crime Stoppers makes a huge difference in our community," Johnson said. "For every call Crime Stoppers receives we save hundreds of hours in investigative work for police."
Callers can remain anonymous and they can earn money if their information leads to an arrest.
Most important is the cloak of anonymity, Johnson said.
The software Pikes Peak Crime Stoppers uses to record tips makes it impossible to track phone numbers, and even collecting reward money requires no personal information, she said.
Callers entitled to a reward are assigned a special password that they can use at Northstar bank in exchange for cash.
Only about 60 percent of callers collect their reward, Johnson said. Still, it's a motivating factor to call.
The person who reported the homicide suspect's location in December, for example, collected $1,000, Johnson said.
That's why she continues to advertise the $100,000 reward for information that leads to the person responsible for igniting the Waldo Canyon Fire.
"I think it's just a matter of time before the person who started that fire is going to spill it to a friend who will turn them in for the reward," Johnson said.
Pueblo Crime Stoppers, the neighboring program to the south, has had similar success solving local crimes.
Since 1983, the program has paid out $255,695 in rewards for 2,360 arrests and about $25 million in recovered property and seized drugs, according to statistics posted on its website.
"Crime Stoppers is a tremendous assistance to the Police Department and our investigative process, which carries over into the community," Colorado Springs police Lt. Howard Black said. "There are times when community members need to make personal choices in not identifying themselves, but they have information that may help move a case forward and we appreciate that."
Johnson attributes an increase in tips - and by association rewards - not only to a growing trust in the system, but also to a rise in crime.
Quoting security resource Safewise.com, Colorado Springs is among the least safe cities in Colorado. The city ranked 62 of 78, falling below Denver at 59, the website said.
Pueblo ranked 74th.
The rankings are determined using the most recent FBI crime report statistics from 2014 and population data, Safewise explained.
"So the police need all the help they can get," Johnson concluded.
The Colorado Springs Police Department's 2015 annual report, the latest official data available, painted a different picture of city crime.
Records showed more crimes were being reported in the city than ever before, but violent crimes were trending down.
Despite filing 41,450 reports in 2015, the number of homicides showed no significant changes and forcible rapes were at a five-year low. Robberies and burglaries also were down, the report said.
2016's numbers likely will surpass 2015's, though, according to the department's unofficial 2016 semi-annual report, which was compiled in July and turned over to the Gazette by a source.
Property crimes increased 11.5 percent from July 2015 to July 2016, due to a jump in motor vehicle thefts and break-ins, while crimes against persons were up 21 percent over the same period, the report said.
Rapes also increased 49 percent over the period, a fact the department attributed to increased reporting, and assaults spiked 20 percent, the report said.
Five-year averages, which the department argues gives a clearer picture of crime than year by year fluctuations, showed crime is worsening.
All statistics further highlight the need for Crime Stoppers programs to continue, Johnson said. But the charitable organization needs, well, charity, she said.
About eight big donors in the community have worked to keep the program afloat, but now that grant and tax dollars no longer supplement the coffers, individual donations are required. All funds go toward paying for the tip software, rewards and office supplies, Johnson explained.
The people who run the service are unpaid volunteers.
"If we don't make $15,000 off the annual fundraiser this year, Crime Stoppers will have to go away," Johnson said.
Pikes Peak Crime Stoppers' 4th Annual Fundraiser is scheduled for July 22 at the Colorado Springs Space Foundation. Tickets cost $40 per person and $75 per couple, and attendees are encouraged to bid on items in the silent auction.
Nationally, Crime Stoppers was founded after a 1976 shooting in Albuquerque, N.M. in which a detective sought the public's help in catching a killer and realized the benefit of reward money. Pikes Peak's program was started in 1981.
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