Saturday, July 2, 2011

What is known about Crime Stoppers for McHenry County?

How does Crime Stoppers work? How does Crime Stoppers for McHenry County work?

A brochure from "Crime Stoppers for McHenry County" (CSMC) explains it all. Or does it? It explains that Crime Stoppers is a "new way" for the public to provide tips to police. It's not really so new. Crime Stoppers' organizations began in the 1970s, so that's at least 40 years. What's "new" about it?

It pays "up to $1,000" in rewards. CSMC, one of several Crime Stoppers groups in McHenry County, paid out $3,400 in 2009 for 12 tips. That's an average of less than $300 per tip. CSMC received over $50,000 from the McHenry County Circuit Court in a recent three-year period. Where did all the money go?

So far, I have been unsuccessful in obtaining annual reports for 2010, 2008 and any other information from CSMC. You'd think I was asking for the combination to the vault at Fort Knox!

When you call Crime Stoppers with a tip, you are supposed to be given a code number, since your tip is anonymous (you don't give your name). You are supposed to be instructed to call back periodically to learn whether your tip was used and if you are eligible for a reward.

When I called in a lead last year, I don't recall being given a code number. Perhaps I was. What I do know is that I was not told to call back periodically. And I was really concerned about an early question from the Tip Line operator, asking me if I wanted a reward.

Why should a caller be asked such a question? The Tip Line is a tip line that advertises a reward. I would think that question might turn others off, as it did me; I almost hung up right then!

CMSC has a Board of Directors and officers. Or so it seems. It appears to me that the only way to learn who some of them are is to pay $10 to the Illinois Secretary of State and purchase a copy of the last Annual Report that was filed. The liaison at the McHenry County Sheriff's Department refuses to identify anyone connected with CSMC; a FOIA request was denied. A letter from Helen Torscher identified her as Secretary last October. A reader referred me to the website of Crime Stoppers International, where Ms. Torscher was identified as President, and Richard Heizer was listed as Treasurer.

Ms. Torscher has failed to respond to other letters or email, and Mr. Heizer has not yet returned a telephone call placed to him on March 4. (I know, I know; some volunteers are really busy.)

The very basic (and only) brochure provided to me on Friday in response to my request for printed information about CSMC reads that the board of directors is made up of concerned citizens." It seems to me that the make-up is of citizens concerned with keeping information from the public view. Since it collected over $50,000 in three years, courtesy of fines imposed by the McHenry County Circuit Court, CSMC should reveal its finances at least so far as public money is concerned.

The brochure also reads that "Donations from private citizens and local businesses support Crime Stoppers." Have you ever been solicited to donate to Crime Stoppers for McHenry County? Or, for that matter, by any Crime Stoppers organization in McHenry County (there are several)? Was it by letter? By phone? Do you still have a copy of any letter soliciting a donation? I'd like to know of it and see it, if you have it.

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