LIMA — No names or addresses are ever asked, nor are they accepted if offered. No caller ID is employed, and never is there a face-to-face meeting.
When it comes to Crime Stoppers, a nationwide crime tip network that has been present in the Limaland area since 1996, it boils down to real people getting real money simply for placing a phone call to make their communities safer places in which to live.
Through the generosity of donations from the private sector and, to a lesser degree, from a portion of fines collected in Putnam County and Lima municipal courts, the Lima Allen/Putnam County Crime Stoppers program gives cash awards of between $100 and $1,000 to citizens who provide tips that assist area law enforcement agencies in the apprehension of wanted criminals.
Jerry Sarchet, program director for the local Crime Stoppers organization since May 2019, likes to say that “no call is too small” to be accepted by his office and forwarded to the attention of police.
That, by Sarchet’s own admission, is a slight exaggeration. Before attempting to turn in your neighbor for driving with a suspended driver’s license (and just how do you know that’s the case, anyway?) or a similar minor infraction, the director said, there are a few guidelines for reporting a crime to Crime Stoppers in search of a monetary reward.
Suspects must have committed a felony offense, must have had a warrant issued for their arrest and must be eluding the long arm of the law.
“Individuals can call Crime Stoppers with a tip which must indicate where the person of interest is located. The tipster is then given a ‘control number,’” Sarchet said. “The tip is forwarded to the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction, and if the suspect is apprehended or arrested based on the information provided by the tipster, the person is eligible for a cash reward. ”
Sarchet said Crime Stoppers receives 75 to 120 calls per month and typically pays out between three and five cash rewards monthly. A 15-member board of directors oversees the program and approves every cash payout. Money to tipsters is dispersed through a local bank, with anonymity assured during each and every step of the process. Tipsters simply take their control number to the bank to claim their reward.
Media drives the program
Crime Stoppers relies on local media to bring to the public the names and likenesses of persons being sought by law enforcement agencies. The weekly listing typically includes two suspects sought by the sheriff’s office, two wanted by the Lima Police Department and two being sought in Putnam County.
The Lima News typically prints the information in its Sunday editions, but the Crime Stoppers list is also placed on the newspaper’s website, LimaOhio.com, the previous evening.
“Saturday night is my busiest night of the week,” Sarchet said. “After you guys (at the newspaper) put our information online, I’ll usually start getting calls right away. You wouldn’t believe the calls I get. Anyone can call me 24/7 and leave a message.”
Sarchet said the last month has been “my biggest ever in terms of calls from the public, mostly due to a bank robbery and a triple murder in Lima already this year.”
While tips concerning the whereabouts of individual criminal suspects are the norm for Crime Stoppers, Sarchet said rewards are also offered for stolen property. If that property is a firearm, the cash reward is even higher.
“We really want to get guns off the street,” he said.
The reasons for which criminals are sought are many and varied. Sometimes it’s for failing to show up for court or missing an appointment with a probation officer. Other times individuals are sought for more serious reasons. This week’s listing (found elsewhere in today’s newspaper) seeks the public’s help in locating 24-year-old Deontray Forrest, the individual sought in connection with the triple homicide in downtown Lima on the morning of Feb. 4.
Lt. Brian Leary, of the Lima Police Department, said Crime Stoppers tips have led directly to the arrest of murderers, robbers and thieves over the years.
“It’s just another avenue where we hopefully can get people to talk,” Leary said. “People on the street don’t like to talk to police; they don’t want to be seen as snitches. But Crime Stoppers gives them the chance to stay behind the scenes and still give us information that may point us in the right direction” to apprehend wanted individuals.
Brad Brubaker is a captain with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. He is appreciative of Sarchet’s work on behalf of the Crime Stoppers program.
“Knock on wood, we don’t have nearly as many outstanding warrants as Allen County does, but we have a really good relationship with Crime Stoppers, and we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the program,” Brubaker said.
Brubaker said Putnam County at one time, “several administrations ago,” did have a working relationship with the Allen County Crime Stoppers. Over time, the relationship dwindled.
“Jerry reached out to us when he took over, and we’re really happy to work with him,” Brubaker said.
Every dollar helps
The Crime Stoppers program that serves Allen and Putnam counties relies exclusively on donations for its existence.
Sarchet, a retired, 27-year veteran of law enforcement, is the lone employee of the local agency, and his salary is the sole expense incurred by the program. All other monies are used for rewards.
The Allen County Sheriff’s Office provides office space, computer technical assistance, dispatch services and other amenities at no cost. All other expenses are covered by tax-deductible donations from citizens, service clubs and businesses.
“We’re always looking for new money. Every penny helps, and it all goes for rewards,” Sarchet said.
Sarchet is also hoping to expand upon the public visibility of the Crime Stoppers program.
“We would love it if a car dealer would step up and provide us with a vehicle to use in community events, from parades to the annual National Night Out. It would really help our visibility and would help us get the word out,” he said.
The goal of the Lima Allen/Putnam County Crime Stoppers program is to make the communities it serves safer places to live.
“I wish we could solve every crime. We just want to get the bad guys off the street,” Sarchet said.
The creation of Crime Stoppers is widely credited to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police department and dates back to July 1976. At the time, Albuquerque had one of the highest per capita crime rates in the country, and people were afraid to help the police.
Following the murder of a local resident, the police department offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers. Within 72 hours, a male called and identified a car he had seen leaving the scene at high speed; he had noted its registration.
The person said he did not want to get involved; therefore, he had not called earlier.
After the brutal shotgun slaying, a local TV station aired a recreation of the murder scene. Within a few hours after the segment was aired, police received another phone call. The video image had triggered the memory of a person who heard a loud bang in the vicinity and then saw a car driving off. The caller told police the vehicle belonged to a resident in a nearby apartment complex.
Detectives arrested two men within 72 hours and charged them with murder and a string of armed robberies.
Realizing that this type of program might be useful in fighting crime, the Albuquerque Police Department permitted a group of citizens to establish the first-ever Crime Stoppers program.
The longevity of the program speaks directly to its success.