The Crime Stoppers hot-line program is heading into its sixth year of asking for tips from the public by offering a variety of electronic options, including a newly redesigned Web site that launches today.
The Web site will be more user-friendly and easier to navigate than the current one, said Carla Castro, who works for the Modesto Police Department and coordinates the hot-line program for Stanislaus County law enforcement agencies.
"There will be search options, using Google," Castro said. "There will also be links to a Facebook page and more capabilities for video streaming."
Crime Stoppers, which lets tipsters share information anonymously and gives them a chance to claim a reward of up to $1,000, has been operating in the county since 2005.
Castro said special software allows all tips to remain confidential.
As of last week, the hot line has helped authorities capture 220 wanted suspects or fugitives.Crime Stoppers has made it a lot easier for some investigators looking for a suspect by working with news media. The Bee publishes advertisements of wanted suspects or fugitives and a weekly feature on Wednesdays called "Most Wanted."
"A lot of these guys don't like the news coverage," Castro said. "Sometimes they get guys who turned themselves in because they're tired of seeing themselves in the newspaper."
Crime Stoppers is a nonprofit agency led by a 15-member board of directors made up of community members. In five years, $31,000 has been paid to tipsters who provided information that led to a capture.
Money, however, isn't the only motivation.
Some tipsters "just want to provide information about a crime," said Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Rick Armendariz. "This is just another outlet that helps them do it anonymously."
He said the hot-line tipsters often offer information about a suspect's whereabouts, helping authorities quickly apprehend the person.
On Jan. 22, Modesto police captured a man suspected of attempted murder about 20 minutes after the tipster called. Officers arrested Daniel Pitts, 27, who is suspected of an attack at a gas station in November.
"It makes their search a lot more narrow," Castro said. "In the long run, it saves money and resources, because you don't have to have them searching everywhere."
In February 2009, Campus Crime Stoppers was started at junior high and high schools in Ceres to encourage students and their families to get involved in anti-crime efforts and potentially tap into clues.
Crime Stoppers accepts tips via e-mails and text messaging, so the campus program was a perfect fit for students, officials say.
Every law enforcement agency in the county participates in Crime Stoppers.
Castro said the Escalon Police Department, which is in San Joaquin County, decided to participate in the Stanislaus County program because of its proximity to Modesto.
She said they have worked to encourage other neighboring counties to start Crime Stoppers program, including Merced County.
The fear of retaliation is a major reason people in Merced County won't give tips to police, said Patrick Lunney, chief investigator for the Merced County district attorney's office.
"We just wanted another avenue for people who are concerned about crime to communicate with us anonymously," Lunney said. "We're very enthused about getting the program up and running by the end of the summer."
Police ask anyone with information about crimes or suspects to call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can e-mail tips through the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.modestopolice.com/CrimeStoppers, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" and a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.