Champaign County Crime Stoppers offers rewards, maintains tippers’ anonymity

Champaign County Crime Stoppers, a non-profit organization that compensates students and residents who anonymously come forward with information about a crime, is changing its methods of outreach.

There are three different ways to report a tip: calling the Crime Stoppers’ hotline, sending a text message or visiting the website.

Capt. Skip Frost of University Police said that students should take advantage of the texting service. He said that it is probably the most convenient way for students to help out with crimes if they wish to remain anonymous.

“Whoever is conveying the information, we guarantee that we will not know their name, and we do not want to know their name,” said John Hecker, president of Champaign County Crime Stoppers. “If the information does lead to an arrest, the person who conveyed the information becomes a candidate for a cash reward of up to $1,000.”

Hecker said other services similar to this do not give out a cash reward until the person who is arrested is convicted, which can take up to two years or could never even happen. Crime Stoppers is unique because the tip only needs to lead to an arrest for the individual to be eligible for the cash reward, and they remain anonymous even if they wish to accept the reward, he said.

If the individual wants the money, he or she will meet someone who will have an unmarked envelope at a pre-determined location. All the candidate must do to receive the payment is provide a pre-assigned number, Hecker said.

“There is nothing signed; we have nothing recorded, no cameras,” he said. “We try to keep it as clean as possible.”

The service has been in existence for 25 years. It is completely funded by fees collected from convicted criminals by local courts, fund raising and donations. In 2010, the service led to over 1,200 arrests and gave out over $90,000 in cash rewards.

University police Chief Jeff Christensen said one of the tips that led to an arrest that stuck out in his mind was a sexual assault case from about three years ago. During a summer event called Greek reunion, a summer gathering of the Greek community on campus, a female student was offered a ride and was brutally beaten and assaulted. The Crime Stoppers tip led police to the criminal’s apartment where they were able to gather evidence linking DNA from the crime scene to DNA left by the individual at his apartment. The criminal was found in Florida but was brought back to Illinois and convicted of the crime.

“We would not have (caught) that individual if it wasn’t for Crime Stoppers,” Christensen said. “Those individuals who are uncomfortable with calling the police can do it in an anonymous manner. I guess the potential of a cash reward helps, also.”