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Crime Stoppers rely on citizens’ eyes and ears

JACKSON – There is a manila colored phone that sits in a corner of Brenda Burnette’s office and when it rings she is eager to answer it. The person on the other end just might have the key to what she’s been looking for.

Burnette is the coordinator for the Northampton County Crime Stoppers program as well as sergeant detective for the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office.

“Crime Stoppers is an organization that tries to stop crime in an area,” said Burnette.

The Northampton County Crime Stoppers Program was started three years ago when Burnette, Northampton County Sheriff Wardie Vincent and citizens became interested in starting one.

Crime Stoppers is a program that provides a tip line where the public can call anonymously and give information to law enforcement. The program is considered a non-profit group and is funded completely through donations.

Burnette said that many times people who have seen or heard things about crimes are often wary to come forward because of three main reasons. She suggested people with information may be afraid of reprisal, may know the individual who committed the crime or the person simply does not want to get involved.

Burnette admits that when she picks up the tip line phone she doesn’t want to know who it is on the other side.

“We don’t want to know who you are,” she said. “We just want the information.”

For those who call into the tip line there is an incentive. A cash reward is given to those who offer information that leads to an arrest. Burnette said the amount of the reward depends on how serious the crime is and what amount the Northampton County Crime Stoppers Board of Directors decide on.

Every community with a Crime Stoppers program has a board of directors made up of volunteers from the community.

According to the Crime Stoppers International (CSI) web site, the board of directors responsibilities include creating policies for the program, raising funds for the rewards, determining the amount of the rewards, making sure that rewards are paid and promoting the program.

“We try to combine people from all over the county,” Burnette said about the selection of board members.

The current board includes Chairperson Otis Wheeler, Vice Chairperson Donald Johnson, Secretary Luther Culpepper and Treasurer Debra James.

Burnette is also part of the board, but has no vote because of conflict of interest as she is a law enforcement officer.

Burnette said a lot of people ask how they can stay anonymous if they receive a reward.

“Every caller is assigned a number,” she said, “and when they go to collect their reward they’re identified only by their number.”

Burnette said Northampton County Crime Stoppers can assist other counties as well with the tips they receive.

If an individual saw or heard something that might have happened outside of the county they can call Northampton County Crime Stoppers and report it. Burnette will then pass it on to the county where the information is relevant.

“In any kind of case, we would like the public to call,” said Burnette.

According to the CSI web site, the first Crime Stoppers program began in 1976 by a journalist turned detective in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1986, January was designated as Crime Stoppers month.

More than 1,200 Crime Stoppers programs are now established around the world, which have helped solve more than one million cases this year.

Burnette recalled one of the first cases where a tip helped. The information the caller offered led to the recovery of furniture that had been stolen from three residences.

“A lot of communities have it and it pays,” said Burnette. “Who knows your neighborhood better than you?”

As a detective, Burnette said the tip line has helped with her with her own work. She said that every good law enforcement officer has their sources and connections in the community, but the law cannot be everywhere 24 hours a day.

“Crime Stoppers may give you a clue or a start where you might not have had a start,” said Burnette. “The citizens can be the eyes and ears for law enforcement.”

In the future Burnette said they would like to implement the program in the public school system through school resource officers, which already have a repute with students.

“But that doesn’t mean that students can’t call into the tip line,” she said.

Anyone with information regarding a crime can contact the Northampton County Crime Stoppers at 252-534-1110.