LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- We're all familiar with how Crime Stoppers works. A crime happens, police respond, the investigation begins. But often no one wants to talk, to say what they saw or heard. Crime Stoppers is a tool designed to encourage witnesses to come forward while remaining anonymous.
But how well does crime stoppers really work here in Little Rock? Crime Stoppers, at its best, gives people incentive to share what they know and put criminals in jail. That's the result local officials want, but that isn't the system that Central Arkansas has.
"We do need people to come forward and help us solve these crimes," said LRPD officer Steve McClanahan.
"We're here to investigate your shooting, could you tell us what happened? And the universal response is, is 'get the F out of here! I don't want to talk to you,” said Chief Kenton Buckner with the Little Rock Police Department.
When witnesses don't cooperate, police and prosecutors beg for help. Crime Stoppers has been in central Arkansas for almost 25 years. It's an international program that allows people to give police information anonymously.
Central Arkansas Crime Stoppers is operated by the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office. It shares the tips people leave with whichever agency is handling that case.
"You know, they can stay anonymous and not leave any personal information if they want to. But if they do leave information, we can contact them back and talk to them about the case, and ask them questions that they might have left out or forgotten, left, to tell us something,” said Lt. Cody Burk with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.
If the Sheriff's Office staff is busy, your tip might sit in the voicemail for a couple days before anyone hears it. If the tip leads to an arrest, Central Arkansas Crime Stoppers will pay out as much as $1,000. But to get that reward you have to give your identity. Compare that with the Crime Stoppers chapter in Baton Rouge, which serves almost as many people as ours. It has two dedicated staffers and a phone service, to answer calls 24/7. You can also email or text your tips, and include photos or videos.
"That probably could be. That could be. Yeah, that could be. I've never thought of that, but that might be a good idea,” said Lt. Burk.
THV11 called the police officer who runs Greater Baton Rouge Crime Stoppers to find out why that's helpful.
“I like the email and the text tips, because once we get the tip and send it to the case detective, he may contact us and say, 'can you ask the caller this or that, more information,' so we can hold a conversation back and forth,” said Lt. Don Stone with the Baton Rouge Police Department.
All its communications are encrypted, so staffers in Baton Rouge never see phone numbers or email addresses. The tipster gets a code number, which he or she can use to check on the status of their info, and to collect the reward, which is paid in cash.
"And we use a bank that doesn't have cameras or camera systems in the—a lot of banks have cameras in the drive-throughs. We don't have that. This is all to protect the identities of our callers,” said Lt. Stone.
The Baton Rouge program offers five times as much in rewards, and gets twice as many tips per day as Central Arkansas.
"We've paid out just a little over $2 million, and around 12,000 arrests have been made since its inception in 1982,” Lt. Stone said.
Lt. Cody Burk, who helps run Central Arkansas's tip line, isn't convinced increased payouts would lead to more arrests.
"That kind of depends on the person. I think some people would call in, regardless, and, whether there was money involved or not, just do the right thing. Some may be influenced by money,” Lt. Burk said.
Lt. Burk said the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office is upgrading its phone system in the next couple months. It will then send him emails every time someone leaves a tip, which could help them get information sooner, and hopefully lead to more arrests.