Crime Stoppers Unit Set Up in Clay; Group Helps Law Enforcement Officers

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

Dick Tracy could always count on the Crime Stoppers, a group of junior G-men who helped the square-jawed comic strip hero fight crime.

It won't be long before the Clay County Sheriff's Office begins receiving help in its daily battle against crime from a group with a similar name and purpose: First Coast Crime Stoppers Inc.

The non-profit corporation, part of a nationwide trend to help law enforcement agencies solve crimes, was established by the Clay County Commission on Sept. 24 at the request of Sheriff Scott Lancaster.

The program relies on a two-pronged approach: paying cash rewards to confidential informants and calling on the media to help with crime re-enactments.

"Information solves crime and that's what this program is all about," Lancaster said, estimating that his department pays out $30,000 to $50,000 a year to confidential informants.

Many crimes are solved by physical evidence, circumstantial evidence or testimony of witnesses. But investigators sometimes start working a case with nothing to go on -- no fingerprints, no DNA, no weapon, no witnesses.

That's when information from informants becomes crucial to crack a case, particularly violent felonies such as murder and robbery and narcotics investigations, Lancaster said, adding that tipsters also often are necessary to find known suspects.

"Even if you have physical evidence," he said, "before you can utilize that evidence you have to be focused in some direction where you're looking for certain suspects."

Lancaster said that during his law-enforcement career he has been involved in numerous investigations in which confidential informants were paid for their services. Some informants are even paid a virtual salary because they provide information on a regular basis, he said.

"I have seen people paid thousands of dollars for information and sometimes as little as $20 or $30," he said.

The Crime Stoppers program began in New Mexico in 1976 and has spread to more than 1,000 organizations throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam and Mexico, Canada, Great Britain and Australia.

Lancaster said his research had revealed that the program has resulted in clearing more than 651,000 cases and recovering more than $38 billion in drugs and stolen property. …