What Is Crime Stoppers?

Confronted with yet another death during a gas station robbery, Detective Greg MacAleese of the Albuquerque, N.M., police force decided that the traditional crime fighting arsenal in the nation’s murder capital must be updated to be effective.

MacAleese’s solution, Crime Stoppers, earned him the title as one of the people who changed the face of the United States during the turbulence of the 1970s. The program’s relative simplicity — you call, leave no trace of yourself, not even a name, get paid through a code, and disappear back into everyday life — restored a sense of security in people calling police.

The program is nationwide, but is administered separately by each individual jurisdiction. And the rules are the same, Gregory Quinn, a senior detective in the Nassau County Police homicide division, told Hamodia.

“If someone calls Crime Stoppers,” said Quinn, a 40-year police veteran, “we have no way of identifying that person.”

Even as telephone technology grew over the last two decades, the no-drama behind Crime Stoppers remained the same: no Caller ID, no using callers to testify in trial, and disabling any way of calling the person unless he calls first.

The Nassau County police department, which would handle a potential Crime Stoppers call about Chaim Weiss, z”l, was set up in the early 1990s, and is run by Robert Merfogel, under the direction of County Executive Edward Mangano and Thomas Dale, the police commissioner.

Merfogel said that they receive about 10 tips a day, but refused to give any details as to their nature.

“We have two full-time detectives assigned to Crime Stoppers, plus two part timers,” Merfogel told Hamodia. “It’s not only taking tips over the phone, its disseminating the crimes in Nassau County, its making Crime Stoppers posters, and getting the word out there.”

The idea behind Crime Stoppers hews closely to the mission set by MacAleese when he wanted to stop another murder from going unpunished.

Michael Carmen was a young college student who earned some extra money by working in a gas station in Albuquerque. A groom two weeks before his wedding, he offered a coworker to replace him on a double shift.

But an armed robbery in July 1976 ended up with Carmen gravely wounded. He was kept alive by the hospital for four hours as he repeatedly tried to tell detectives who was responsible for the crime. But he just didn’t have the strength to form the words.

His death might have ended up as just another unsolved statistic in the police database if not for the persistence of MacAleese, a Canadian-born reporter-turned-detective.

It seemed inconceivable to MacAleese’s colleagues that someone who had information on Carmen’s senseless killing would remain silent. But the detective wanted to go outside the box.

He came up with a three-step plan: do a video reenactment and broadcast it in the local media, guarantee anonymity for anyone who was willing to call him with information, and put up a reward — that first prize money came from MacAleese’s own pocket; today it is raised by private donations — “for information leading to the arrest and conviction” of those responsible for Carmen’s murder.

The three greatest inhibitions people have about calling police, law enforcement officials say, are the fear of reprisal, a reluctance to get involved, and just plain apathy. Crime Stoppers resolves them by offering anonymity and paying rewards.

MacAleese’s plan worked. Within a few hours after the re-enactment of the murder was broadcast, he received a phone call from a young man. The video image had triggered his memory of a loud bang in the vicinity of the gas bar. He then saw a car speeding off.

The caller told MacAleese that he did not recognize the two occupants but thought he recalled the vehicle as belonging to a resident in a nearby apartment complex.

Through investigation, MacAleese and a team of detectives arrested two men within 72 hours and charged them with the murder of Carmen and a string of armed robberies. The caller, who was never named, went to a local bank and withdrew his award money by identifying himself through a code.

MacAleese’s first effort had tertiary results as well. Other calls that followed the reenactment allowed police to solve six other crimes.

Since then, Crime Stoppers has helped solve nearly a million crimes and has chapters in many major cities worldwide.

“The two criminals who shot down Michael Carmen … didn’t realize that they would be responsible for a world-wide anti-crime movement that has resulted in the solution of more than 425,000 major crimes,” MacAleese wrote a few years ago.