URBANA — Last year marked the year that Crimestoppers of Champaign County passed the $100,000 mark for rewards paid to citizens willing to help solve crimes.
In the 27 years that the local organization has been around, it has paid out $103,210 in rewards to solve a total of 745 cases.
And much of that cash has come from convicted criminals.
The ability of citizens to help police without fear of retribution is critical to successful prosecutions, Stephanie Weber, an assistant Champaign County state's attorney, told guests at Thursday's annual luncheon of Crimestoppers of Champaign County.
Weber told the audience, made up mostly of police officers, civilian law enforcement employees and reporters, that Champaign police recently came to her for help getting a search warrant for a woman's home in north Champaign so they could collect bullets lodged inside the house from a gun that was fired outside.
"She didn't want her neighbors to know she was cooperating with police," Weber said. "Having the option of anonymity to give information is invaluable, knowing the resistance that's out there. Retaliation is a very real concern."
Weber and the other guest speaker, Associate Champaign County Judge Rich Klaus, both said they see scores of requests for search and arrest warrants each year that contain information which was funneled to police through Crimestoppers.
During 2012, Crimestoppers received tips in 805 cases. The number of cases solved totaled 69 and the number of arrests was 67.
There were 50 rewards paid for a total of $7,475.
Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels, who serves as the law enforcement coordinator for Crimestoppers, noted that the non-profit, all-volunteer organization gets the bulk of its funding from fines assessed to convicted criminals.
"Their money goes back to arresting more people, which is a good thing for all of us," Daniels said.
Daniels said the telephone is still the most popular way for callers to relay tips to Crimestoppers, but computer and text tips account for about 25 percent to 30 percent of the tips.
"We see that growing. A lot of the people exposed to crime are younger and they are more comfortable communicating through text, smartphone and the computer," Daniels said.
At Thursday's luncheon at the Urbana Country Club, the group also presented awards that came from the state Crime Stoppers organization to six local companies that have helped Crimestoppers of Champaign County.
The Outstanding Contributors of the Year Award went to the State Farm Center, formerly the Assembly Hall, and Monster Shred of Champaign for their donation of time, space and services for the annual Crimestoppers "Shred-It Event" in June which encourages residents to bring their personal documents for shredding.
Four media outlets were also honored with the Media Organization of the Year Award for donating resources, newspaper space, billboards and air time to publicize crimes and people wanted for criminal activity.
Those winners were Adams Outdoor Advertising, The News-Gazette, radio stations WDWS/WHMS/WKIO, and WCIA-Channel 3.