Video: Merced County announces Crime Stoppers program

vpatton@mercedsun-star.comSeptember 21, 2011 

Law enforcement authorities will soon deploy a new tool -- money -- for netting criminals and evil-doers.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II and other officials unveiled the new Merced Area Crime Stoppers program, which is geared toward solving crimes by offering monetary rewards to citizens who provide tips and other vital information.

Merced is the 18th county in the state to initiate a Crime Stoppers program, according to Carla Castro, president of California Crime Stoppers and organizer of Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers.

The program, which officially launches Oct. 3, will regularly profile unsolved cases in the pages of the Sun-Star and other local media. Readers will be provided a tip-line phone number and email to contact or text. Those who provide information leading to an arrest will be given a monetary reward.

Police chiefs from every city in Merced County joined Morse at the conference. "Never has the need for such cooperation been greater than today, where our county's law enforcement agencies are facing such extraordinary financial challenges," Morse said.

Morse suggested having the program in Merced County after attending a Crime Stoppers fund-raiser in Stanislaus County in 2009. "In communities across the nation for three decades, the Crime Stoppers program has proven that a partnership between citizens, law enforcement and the media can bring criminals to justice," he added.

Merced County's program is a nonprofit with a volunteer board of directors, supported by private donations. Pat Lunney, chief investigator with the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, said organizers have so far collected about $9,000 in private donations.

Lunney, who spearheaded organization of the program, said it has proven to be an effective tool for fighting crime, particularly because those who report tips are kept anonymous, which offers witnesses an additional incentive to come forward.

In nearly every crime, Lunney said there is someone who has vital information. Many people don't provide that information because they're afraid. "We in the law enforcement community cannot do it alone," Lunney said. "In order for us to reduce crime and increase the quality of life in our neighborhoods, we have to work in collaboration with citizens."

Michael Hughes, former police chief of Los Banos who is chairman of the Crime Stoppers board, attended Wednesday's event, saying's he's concerned about the amount of crime in the city, and he's hopeful Crime Stoppers will help address the situation. "When (the witness) calls in, they get a number, they go to the bank and they are able to get their reward if the tip turns out to be good," Hughes said. "With the help of all our citizens, Crime Stoppers can enhance all of our neighborhoods."

Additional members of the Merced Area Crime Stoppers board are Dos Palos City Manager Darrell Fonseca, UC Merced professor Richard Miller, Gustine Mayor Dennis Brazil, Los Banos resident Elias Reyes, Livingston resident Kaye Greeley, Merced resident Susie Bubenchik, Merced resident Joseph Carrillo, Atwater real estate agent Andy Krotik, Merced resident David Baker, businessman Mike Altomar and businessman Ray Beverly. The phone numbers for the Merced Area Crime Stoppers services will be provided before the Oct. 3 launch date.

Managing Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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