Crime Stoppers launch app, seek more community involvement

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to show that Peninsula Crime Stoppers is 35 years old.

Though it has celebrated its 35th birthday, the Peninsula Crime Stoppers group is still trying to gain more public attention and involvement.

Peninsula Crime Stoppers, a central peninsula-based nonprofit, offers cash rewards for people who turn in tips related to crimes on the Kenai Peninsula. The board coordinates with the police departments in the cities and with the Alaska State Troopers, maintaining a phone line for tipsters and recently launched a Facebook page and a smartphone app to make it easier for people to get involved.

Police officers often rely on public tips to follow up on cases. This weekend, for instance, Kenai Police Department officers reached out through Peninsula Crime Stoppers’ Facebook page to ask for information about a crime from Nov. 5 in which a dog was killed by a shot from a high-powered pellet gun on King Salmon Drive.

The post was shared more than 100 times as of Monday. Between the Facebook page and the mobile app, called P3, people can submit tips far more easily than they could via phone, said Ryan Grimm, the Kenai Police Department liaison for Crime Stoppers.

“What P3 does is it avoids them having to make a phone call or use the website,” he said.

Crime Stoppers works with the police department to identify which crimes to ask for help on, said board president Ed Beddow. They see themselves as assisting law enforcement to do their jobs, he said.

P3 allows people to submit tips completely anonymously through their smartphones. Crime Stoppers launched it earlier this year and it’s been very successful so far, Beddow said. The board has six tip rewards waiting to be paid out.

Smartphones link together the community, so it makes sense to have them as a connection point for crime reporting, Beddow said.

“P3 is the eyes for our community to help support law enforcement,” he said.

It recently led to an arrest in Kenai, Grimm said — someone saw something going on in the McDonald’s parking lot, submitted a tip through their smartphone and police officers responded and made an arrest. Grimm handles all the tips that come in and forwards them to the appropriate agency based on jurisdiction and type of crime. He can correspond with tipsters entirely through P3 and the process remains anonymous, an important factor for tipsters, he said.

Crime Stoppers also recently rebranded to be a peninsula-wide organization, rather than its former incarnation as Central Peninsula Crime Stoppers. In the past, people have perceived the organization as only responding to crimes in the Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling, Kasilof and Nikiski areas, Beddow said, but they also coordinate with Homer and Seward police departments and the troopers there to take tips and solve crimes. The board has to vote to approve the payment for a tip, and when they do, the transaction remains anonymous — it depends on the tipster’s preferences, but often cash is dropped off at a bank and the tipster is given a code word to pick it up. This avoids the potential for tipsters to get pulled into the court process through subpoenas.

The other reason they’re looking for more support is for funding. In the past, donations to nonprofits from oil companies and the Pick.Click.Give program helped keep the organizations afloat, but with the economy in recession and the Permanent Fund dividend amounts reduced the last two years, nonprofits have been casting around for additional funding sources.

Peninsula Crime Stoppers pays for the tips as well as the software for the P3 app and maintaining the phone line directly to Grimm’s desk, among other expenses, such as sending members to the national U.S. Crime Stoppers conferences. Though some people turn in tips as good citizens, having rewards incentivizes participation, Beddow said. The group recently held a gun raffle fundraiser and is planning other events to help raise money to support its operations.

“Without that money, it’s hard to exist,” he said.

As of 2014, Crime Stoppers tips have led to 284 arrests in cases including theft, armed robbery, property damage and drug activity. Beddow said the board is planning to update those numbers as well, as they’re nearly four years old.

A 15-year volunteer with the board, he said he was inspired by some of the successes of other Crime Stoppers groups around the country and wanted to drum up support around the Kenai Peninsula for the local group. He said he also wanted to see more volunteers on the board who are willing to make a commitment — though the time demands aren’t much every month, having board members who commit and work consistently over several years ensures continuity. The next board meeting, at which elections will take place, will be held Dec. 7 at the Soldotna Police Department.

Peninsula Crime Stoppers functions as a peninsula-wide neighborhood watch, connecting citizens with police to solve crimes, but there are also localized watches in various communities around the peninsula. Outside the cities, Sterling and Nikiski residents started their own informal community watches in 2015. Within the city of Kenai, Grimm said he coordinates three neighborhood watches with a fourth trying to get off the ground.

Often, residents are motivated to start or revive a neighborhood watch program after a rash of thefts or the perception of a trouble spot in the area, Grimm said. It’s not a complicated process to get a neighborhood watch going, and more resident involvement helps increase security, such as a neighbor being able to watch a house when someone is away on vacation, he said.

“I find that these groups often bring people together and neighbors meet each other,” he said.

To submit a tip to Peninsula Crime Stoppers, call 907-283-TIPS, visit peninsulacrimestoppers.com or download the P3 app.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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