Tips made through the Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers program continually lead to arrests and the seizure of drugs and stolen property. In 2013, 696 criminals were arrested closing 1,600 cases and resulting in the seizure of more than $1 million in drugs and property.
"That's about on pace with last year's numbers," said Crime Stoppers coordinator Trish Routte. "Funding from the state has been cut for the last three years. We always try to do more with less, but the numbers have stayed pretty steady. We did, however, seize more drugs this year."
Drug seizure is by far the top result of anonymous tips from the public. In 2013, more than $879,000 in illegal narcotics were confiscated with more than $167,000 in weapons and property recovered.
"Tipsters are the lifeblood of the Crime Stoppers program," said Routte. "We rely on citizens to report unusual activity in their neighborhoods, or anything that doesn't feel right."
Crime Stoppers works because of a partnership with law enforcement, who quickly follow up on every tip, and the tipsters.
Tips are received by phone, online and texts.
"We get a couple of hundred tips each and every week," Routte said. "We have made arrests within 30 minutes of a crime as well as weeks or years later. Some people don't like being seen talking to cops, but after some time passes they call to report something. We do everything possible to protect the identity of our tipsters, making sure nothing ever gets traced back to them."
Since last Jan. 1, Crime Stoppers paid out $144,270 in reward money, which comes from fines and costs paid by criminals, not taxpayer dollars. A portion of those fines and costs comes back to the reward fund and to operate the hotline in the form of a grant through Tallahassee. Funding for the remainder of the Crime Stoppers program, salaries, supplies, etc., comes from the Lee County Sheriff's Office budget.
Since its formation in 1981, Crime Stoppers has grown steadily. Anonymous tips in 2003 led to 204 arrests, closing 300 cases, seizing $181,072 in drugs and property, and paying out just $28,000 in rewards.
"We'd love to see an uptick in the numbers in 2014," said Routte.
Drugs taken from criminals eventually are destroyed by law enforcement while stolen property is returned to its rightful owner if possible. The rest goes to a forfeiture fund.
The Crime Stoppers hotline number is 1-800-780-TIPS (8477) and is open 24 hours a day.
Tips can be made online at www.swflcrimestoppers.org or by texting a tip to CRIMES (274637) Keyword: REWARD.