Crime Stoppers

Champaign County Crime Stoppers Board members (from left): Treasurer Tyler Kutz, Vice President Dawn Coyne, President John Hecker and secretary Leslie Adams.

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Gunshots ring out in the night. A mother cries uncontrollably over her child’s body. Police investigate, knocking on doors, asking people what they saw, seeking justice for a grieving family. But all too often, witnesses won’t share what they know, leaving criminals free to walk the streets and heartbroken families searching for answers.

In his April 14 column titled “There’s a reason not to snitch,” News-Gazette columnist Jay Simpson seemingly offers that staying quiet is justifiable, saying, “If a situation has nothing to do with you, then you don’t even bother getting involved, even if you saw what happened.” Simpson explains that “snitching” is unacceptable in some communities and can have negative consequences for those caught sharing information with police.

We don’t doubt that retaliation can be a real concern for those seen talking with law enforcement. But there are ways for witnesses to step up and do the right thing without putting themselves in any type of jeopardy.

For 35 years, Champaign County Crime Stoppers has provided simple and anonymous ways for people to share information about criminal activity in Champaign County.

We counter Jay Simpson’s premise by suggesting that the notion of “not snitching” be reserved for lesser situations like who scratched dad’s car and not used to protect a criminal who shoots another human being just because they posted something they didn’t like on social media or were otherwise disrespected.

For those who understand that to truly be part of a community we all have to watch out for and protect one another from those who seek to harm our community, Crime Stoppers could be the solution.

We realize that many may be unsure of how Crime Stoppers works, or mistakenly believe that Crime Stoppers is a unit of law enforcement. We’d like to address those misconceptions and explain the great lengths that our local nonprofit, all-volunteer group takes to ensure that anyone providing information to Crime Stoppers is always 100 percent, guaranteed to be kept anonymous.

Since 1986, Champaign County Crime Stoppers has filled an important role as an easy way for residents to share information about criminal activity in their community while assuring the tipster is never identified. Crime Stoppers provides several convenient ways for community members to share information about crimes in Champaign County without any fear of reprisals or retaliation.

Crime tips can be provided via our phone line (217-373-TIPS), our website (373tips.com) or through our free “P3 Tips” mobile app. Crime Stoppers will never ask for a tipster’s name, our phone lines are not recorded, we don’t use caller ID, and we pay significant fees for various technologies that strip and eliminate every trace of data associated with a phone call or computer IP address. There is absolutely no way for a tipster’s identity to ever be known … by anyone … ever.

We also recognize that in some cases a monetary reward can incentivize people to step forward and share information. Crime Stoppers has always offered cash rewards of up to $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest of individuals involved in criminal activity in Champaign County.

In early 2019, recognizing an alarming rise in gun-related crime locally, we launched a new program to incentivize people to share information about gun-related crimes. Now in its third year, the Illegal Gun Bounty Reward Program guarantees our maximum $1,000 cash reward for an anonymous tip that leads to the arrest of a person who used a gun during the commission of a felony crime in Champaign County.

In just over two years, the Illegal Gun Bounty Reward Program awarded $24,000 in cash rewards for anonymous tips that resulted in the arrest of 26 individuals charged with gun-related felony crimes and the removal of 32 illegal firearms off our streets. Because of the ongoing success of the program, and thanks to funding support from the Champaign County Community Coalition and the city of Champaign, we’re able to continue providing the program as an incentive to share information about gun-related crimes that continue to harm our sense of community.

It’s no secret that gun violence both nationally and in Champaign County has risen at an alarming rate. Far too many members of our community, including innocent victims caught in the crossfire, have been killed or injured in these senseless shootings. Law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders repeatedly ask for the public’s help to solve these crimes. But when witnesses don’t come forward to share what they know, whether directly to law enforcement or anonymously through Crime Stoppers, they’re letting down and hurting the very community we all know and love.

Champaign County is an amazing place to live, work, visit and raise a family. But we have to put the notion of “not snitching” behind us and realize the importance of what it means to be a community, to provide grieving families justice and to hold those who choose to hurt our community accountable for their actions.

John Hecker is president, Dawn Coyne vice president, Leslie Adams secretary and Tyler Kutz treasurer of Champaign County Crime Stoppers. Learn more about the nonprofit at 373tips.com.

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