Tampa Bay area law enforcement officials explain how Crime Stoppers works

TAMPA, Fla.  (WFLA) – For around three decades Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay has gotten the community involved, through cash incentives, in putting criminals behind bars.

Crime Stoppers relies on tips from the public. If those tips results in criminal convictions, a tipster can cash in.

Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay offers a reward of up to $3,000 for information leading to the identification and arrest of a suspect in a specific case.

This worked well in two recent cases. Just last week in Polk County a tip about a “blue truck” led to the arrest of a man wanted in a reported hit-and-run incident, which had left one woman dead and a Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputy badly injured.

In Pasco County, a tip about a man wanted for attempted murder holed up in a motel led to a confrontation with SWAT.

Those calls and all the others are completely anonymous. “We have no idea who you are, where you are, what number you’re calling from, nothing,” Master Deputy Kelly McLaren of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.

Capt. Eric Seltzer of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office also assured News Channel 8 the calls are 100 percent anonymous. “They are,” he said.

Investigators say the calls are routed to call centers outside the United States. There’s no caller ID. In addition, there is no email address tracing or IP address tracking when tips are submitted.

“They want to do the right thing, but they don’t want people to know they gave the information,” McLaren said about the tipsters.

“They just call in because it’s the right thing to do,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

A tipster finds out if his or her tip panned out by using the number they’re given to log on to an anonymous account. Once there, the tipster can check the status of his or her check and even add more information to the original tip.

Tipsters remain anonymous even through the payment process. “They’re paid through a confidential number and they’re told, ‘Here’s your number,’” Judd said. “Go pick up your check.”

Typically, about a third of tipsters cash in. If it was just about the cash, Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay organizers say more people would be reaping the financial rewards.

“You know what, it hasn’t been a motivating factor,” Capt. Seltzer said.

Still, some residents told us the money is a powerful incentive. “You want my honest opinion?” Michele Leahy of New Port Richey asked. “The money.”

“You could benefit both people,” Harry Klyap of New Port Richey sa.  “You could get someone off the street while also getting a reward for yourself by making the right decision.”

There’s also a new program within Crime Stoppers Tampa Bay. It’s just getting off the ground.

It’s a gun buyback program. Someone gives a tip, deputies recover a gun, and the tipster receives a $1,000 reward.

Anyone with any information regarding a case can call 1-800-873-TIPS (8477), report at http://www.crimestopperstb.com or send a mobile tip through Crime Stopper’s P3 Tips Mobile application.

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