Police see increase in CrimeStopper tips

BY JORDAN FRIES | MARCH 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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An increase in anonymous tips to the local chapter of CrimeStoppers shouldn’t place a heavier burden on the Iowa City police, officials said.

Though police Lt. Jim Steffen said the motivation in calling varies for each nameless tipster, monetary rewards of up to $1,000 for certain tips may be an incentive to dial in a helpful clue.

Local law-enforcement officials said the service has been helpful, pointing to a recent case in which an anonymous tip led to the arrest of a suspect in the homicide of John Versypt.

“Some people call because they feel it is their duty and are not motivated by the money,” Steffen said. “Because it is anonymous, people may give information they otherwise would not have because they would not want to endanger their safety.”

Police Chief Sam Hargadine campaigned for a local CrimeStoppers tip line when he joined the department in 2006. The Iowa City area became one of roughly 1,200 communities worldwide to adopt CrimeStoppers in June 2007.

A board of eight community members operates the organization and decides the sum of the given reward, but the goal of CrimeStoppers is ultimately to get that information to the police, who document the CrimeStoppers’ tips on a computer system.

Most tips involve drug busts, but authorities said house parties, burglaries, and suspicious individuals are also common subjects.

Since its inception, there are 14 known instances in which a tip has led to an arrest for one of the six area police forces that cooperate with CrimeStoppers. Tips sent directly to the police are not listed under CrimeStoppers.

The most recently publicized tip also happens to be the most well-known to date.

Iowa City area CrimeStoppers, which does not usually release reward sums, recently took the unique action of guaranteeing the maximum $1,000 reward for information concerning the Oct. 8, 2009, slaying of landlord Versypt at 1958 Broadway, one of the properties he managed.

Police Sgt. Denise Brotherton, who could not provide details about the tip, said it was “essential to the investigation” and was filed three days after the murder.

That tip lead to the eventual arrest of 17-year-old Charles W.C. Thompson last month, police said.

“The tip that came in was very useful, but homicides are major investigations,” Hargadine said. “Trying to finish an investigation early could be detrimental and things could be missed.”

Even with the inevitable influx of tips following a $1,000 reward, officers say the benefits of receiving the information far outweigh the potential clutter the tips provide.

“Sometimes, we get a lot of tips that are pretty outlandish, but we still follow everything up,” Steffen said. “We prioritize them in order of importance. The benefits still nullify the extra work they sometimes cause.”

And even if a tip does not lead directly to a conviction, officers said, most of the information provided gives valuable insight into criminal trends and guilty individuals it the community.

“We are always advocating for more public support and involvement, so CrimeStoppers definitely plays into this,” Brotherton said.

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