Partner Profile: First Coast Crime Stoppers
First Coast Crime Stoppers is a civilian volunteer organization based in Jacksonville, Florida that works to help law enforcement solve crimes by combatting the community’s apathy, reluctance to get involved, and potential fear of reprisal when reporting information about a crime. By setting up a system in which people can anonymously report what they know and receive a cash reward, First Coast Crime Stoppers better enables the citizens of the First Coast to fight against crime in their community. In late 2019, a donation from the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation helped to fund the organization’s many initiatives.
In the heat of summer 1976, a young man named Michael Carmen was working the late shift at a gas station in Albuquerque, New Mexico when he was shot and killed during a robbery gone wrong. Carmen was a college student with a bright future ahead of him, and his murder weighed heavily on Albuquerque Police Detective Greg MacAleese, who was in charge of solving the case.
After two weeks with no tips and no leads on the case, Detective MacAleese approached a local TV station with an innovative idea: produce a video re-enactment of the murder to play on air, guarantee anonymity for anyone willing to come forward, and provide a cash reward for any information leading to an arrest.
Within 72 hours of the segment’s airing, a tip from a man who had seen a car speeding away from the gas station at the time of the murder led to the arrest of the two men responsible for not only Carmen’s death, but also a string of other armed robberies. After several other crimes were solved in a similar manner, Detective MacAleese helped establish the first Crime Stoppers program in the United States.
Today, there are more than 1,000 Crime Stoppers chapters across the country, currently boasting a 95% conviction rate on cases solved by tips they receive. The First Coast chapter was founded in 2002 and operates through a special Florida Crime Stoppers Trust Fund grant, and through community donations such as the one it recently received from the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation.
Since launch, tips to First Coast Crime Stoppers have resulted in 3,840 arrests, 7,539 cases cleared, and more than $15 million in recovered property. The organization has paid out more than $1.5 million in rewards to tipsters.
“This program has been very successful,” said Wyllie Hodges, Executive Director of First Coast Crime Stoppers. “Since we first started, our tips have gone up from a few hundred a year to 3,000-5,000 per year, and this has helped us to solve 120 local murder cases.”
Hodges added that First Coast Crime Stoppers also has a gun bounty program, which provides tipsters with an additional $1,000—on top of the reward they would already receive—if they can give information that leads to the recovery and of an illegal weapon and a charge against the weapon holder.
While the State of Florida has a statute mandating all convicts must pay $20 into a Crime Stoppers fund, Hodges says they are lucky if even 50% of those convicted of a crime actually pay.
“If they did, we wouldn’t need to fundraise for additional money,” he said.
As it stands, First Coast Crime Stoppers, which covers six counties in Northern Florida, relies on donations from the community to keep going. With the help of the Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation’s contribution, the organization is able to pay operations costs, provide tipsters with rewards, and perhaps most important of all, get the message out to the community.
According to Hodges, a focus on getting the word out to the community can help to bring in more tips that may ultimately lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for local crimes.
“It’s so important that the community believes in this system and truly understands how it works so that they continue to reach out with information,” he said. “The goal is to get as many tips as possible into the hands of our law enforcement liaisons.”