By Cheryl Conway
Eyes, ears and a cell phone is all one needs these days to help solve crimes in Morris County.
In existence since 1986, Morris County Sheriff’s Crimestoppers recently added anonymous texting and a submission form so witnesses can have even easier access to report a crime while remaining unidentifiable. The information gathering agency through the Morris County Sheriff’s Department works with law enforcement, the public and media to solve various crimes.
While some nearby towns were recently ranked as one of the safest communities in New Jersey, law enforcement can not be alone in crime reporting. Partnering with citizens can only raise the bar on maintaining safe communities.
“There are 487,000 sets of eyes and ears in Morris County that can help law enforcement,” says Greg Moses of Dover, commissioner of Morris County Sheriff’s Crimestoppers. “Law enforcement can’t do it alone. Information is the only thing that helps to solve crimes.”
Involved with the program since Morris County started using it 28 years ago, Moses says “Crime never goes away. Each law enforcement agency can only do so much, yet crimes keep occurring. This to me is a very important asset into keeping the community safe.”
Crimestoppers began in 1976 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a young detective faced with several unsolved cases, especially one that involved the murder of a college student, believed information to solve the crime was available from someone other than the criminal.
The local community, media and law enforcement publicized the first “Crime of the Week” and offered a cash reward to individuals that provided anonymous tips that would lead to the arrest.
A call received resulted in the arrest within 72 hours of three men involved in the homicide of the young college student that had occurred four months earlier, according to Crimestoppers USA.
Crimestoppers has grown world wide with programs in the United States, Canada, Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and the South/Western Pacific.
Morris County was the first in NJ to start a Crimestoppers program, says John Sette of Morris Twp., chair of the Morris County Sheriff’s Crimestopper board who helped establish the local agency with former Sheriff John Fox in 1986.
Fox had been approached with the idea of Crimestoppers in 1985, by another county official whose daughter was attacked in her apartment while attending school in the northwest. Two days after her attack, the crime was solved through Crimestoppers.
Through Crimestoppers, the media will publicize information about a crime and someone can place anonymous tips with the most secure methods whether through phone call, texting or an online submission form. Participants will be given a code number which is their only connection to the case
Texting was added two years ago to keep up with the advancement in technology.
“We’re constantly reinventing how we get out to the public,” says Sette. “We are trying to upgrade through the internet. Now you can text, call or email. As technology changes, we are evolving. Our intent everyday is to get more and more people to participate. If you see a crime, you can report a crime without getting involved.”
Once received, tips are then turned over to law enforcement, says Moses, who created the Crimestoppers website in June 2010 to help spread the word about the local Crimestoppers program. “We work with county, state and local agencies,” prosecutors, chiefs of police, federal agencies, secret service and FBI. “Information is all we give them and then they turn it into an investigation.”
Submitters may be entitled to a $1,000 cash award, say officials, and at the same time do not have to fear being identified. “Not one person’s identity has been compromised in the last 26 years,” says Moses.
The phone calls are transmitted through a one wire telephone with “no electronic devices whatsoever,” Moses explains. “Texting goes through an encryption of military grade” and the submission form goes through “47 random servers. There’s no way to track it back. It’s very secure.”
Sette says, “When you call us, it’s totally anonymous. We give you a code number.”
The only person to know the identity of the caller or texter is the reward deliverer, Sette himself.
“Less than one half want the reward,” says Moses. “They just want to solve crime.
About 20 percent claim the reward, says Sette. All monies are raised through fundraisers sponsored by Crimestoppers, with no tax dollars involved. Its main fundraiser – a cocktail party at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany every December- attracts about 500 people with $25,000 raised annually.
“People need to know that we are here,” says Moses, “so when they see something they can call or text and not worry about repercussions or going to court.”
In Morris County alone, there have been 2,000 arrests through tips received by Crimestoppers, says Sette.
“There have been a tremendous amount of arrests that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Crimestoppers,” says Sette. “It’s a great program.” The “bad guy” is always looking for police, rather than looking to see if citizens are around.
The program has been well received.
During its first year, when Roxbury High School was bombarded by bomb scares in 1986, Morris County Sheriff’s Crimestoppers received an anonymous phone call that led them to the arrest of the bomb-threat caller, describes Sette.
Another crime reported through the local Crimestoppers involved the arrest of a high school student who set fire to the Sizzler’s Steak House in Rockaway years ago. The fire had been deemed electrical until the anonymous call was received with the real cause of the fire, says Sette.
Most of the crimes reported, about 60 percent, in Morris County through Crimestoppers have been drug related crimes, officials say, but have run the gamut from locating fugitives, to theft and counterfeit money.
“We generally receive cases involving the use or sale/use of controlled dangerous substances,” says Det. Sgt. Lou Sanchez, Investigations Division of the Mt. Olive Twp. Police Department. “On occasion we also receive cases involving theft and driving while intoxicated.”
Sanchez says Mt. Olive receives approximately six to eight Crimestopper tips a year. Morris County Sheriff’s Crimestopper program also has been pro-active with Mt. Olive in the past, such as with bank robberies, says Sanchez. “They will send out a special Crimestopper upon our request and we then receive an influx of tips on that particular request.”
Most recently, Crimestoppers provided information through its program that assisted Mt. Olive with a theft investigation. The investigation was subsequently closed by arrest, says Sanchez.
“Mt. Olive has benefitted from the program right from its inception,” says Mt. Olive Police Chief Mark Spitzer, a past president of the Morris County Police Chiefs Association.
“As a police chief I believe the intelligence information garnered from the program is important and valuable,” says Spitzer. “The program is of benefit especially because the sheriff is sure to advertise its existence in many ways. Everyone from Morris County knows of the system because Ed Rochford and the commissioners of the program spread the word regularly.”
Spitzer says the community can call police directly if they feel more comfortable but by calling into Crimestoppers the informant is assigned a number, as they advertise “no one will ask your name” and often the tipster is given a reward for their help.
“They have the option,” says Moses. “They can be socially responsible and they don’t have to be involved. They are helping the community. It’s a very good partnership. It’s absolutely perfect.”
Call Crimestoppers at (973) Cop-Call or 1-800-Sheriff to place an anonymous tip; or go to copcall.org to submit a secure submission form or send a text. If the information leads to the arrest or indictment of the responsible individual(s), up to a $1,000 cash reward will be received. Crimestoppers is a non-profit corporation in cooperation with the Morris County Prosecutors Office, Morris County Chiefs of Police Association, and the Morris Sheriff’s Office.
In emergency cases, always call 911 and not Crimestoppers.
Monetary contributions can be sent to Morris County Sheriff’s Crimestoppers, P.O. Box 192, Convent Station, NJ, 07961. All contributions are tax deductible.