HOUSTON, Texas -- When you call in a tip about a Kansas City homicide, it’s received in a call center more than 700 miles away. You’re promised it’s anonymous, but is it?
Murders in the metro are on the rise. As part of FOX4's new Problem Solvers Crime Files series, Megan Dillard has been shining a spotlight on unsolved cases, hoping to generate new tips for law enforcement working to solve them.
Police have said one of the biggest problems is getting people with the right information to share what they know. It’s been called a “no-snitch” culture.
Officers have said most people don’t realize when you call the Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline, you aren't calling police. You’re calling a nonprofit that doesn’t track your identity at all.
You hear it often: "Call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477." But what really happens when you pick up the phone and dial those numbers? Is the call truly anonymous?
In a small office outside Houston, you`ll find a handful of people with their headsets in place. They`re taking down information about potentially dangerous people.
The operators answer calls for almost 300 anti-crime organizations across the country, including Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers. It's a nonprofit -- not the police.
“It`s not an arm of law enforcement," Sherman Moore said. "They may have some investigators assigned to the program, but Crime Stoppers is not law enforcement.”
Moore runs the call center, and with years of experience wearing the badge, he knows how to train his team.
“All of our operators are specifically trained in being able to interview tipsters to get the information that they have, that will help our partners to solve whatever crime they`re getting information on," he said.
The call-takers don't want your name. They want what you know.
“All we are is the conduit to interview the tipster, collect information and send it back to the Kansas City Crime Stoppers program,” Moore said.
That program is headed up by Kevin Boehm. He's a KCPD detective, but his role is with Crime Stoppers.
“My office is at the Crime Commission," Boehm said. "All the information comes through the crime commission computers, not a police computer.”
Here`s how it works: You dial 816-474-TIPS. You`re routed locally during the day or to the Houston call center after hours.
The person who answers doesn't get your name, address, even whether you're a man or woman. In the system, you`re simply listed as “tipster.”
You share what you know. They might ask you some questions about that to clarify. Then, they give you a code.
“They keep that code number and then that serves as their identity,"Boehm said. "They then need to check back with us periodically, and if we get a tip that pays off, law enforcement will let us know. We note that in our system. When those rewards are approved, then that tipster can call us back.”
If your tip leads to an arrest or charges, you`ll get paid.
“We set up an arrangement where we never have any face-to-face contact, and they are paid in cash. Simple as that," Boehm said.
You pick up an envelope full of cash without anyone tracking or recording you. No one is even there at the pickup point. You’re on your way -- with thousands of dollars that belong to you.
The process is the same for tips that come in through the website or the mobile app, which you can download for free through Google or Apple.
“The neat thing about that is with those two pieces of technology, you can actually upload video, photos or documents, which in the past as a phone call, we couldn`t get any of that,” Boehm said.
So, is the anonymous tip hotline working?
“We had a homicide Friday night in Kansas City, Missouri. Saturday a tip was received. Sunday morning we received information that led to an arrest," Boehm said.
The payout in KC now can be up to $10,000.
“Trying to get the cooperation from the general public sometimes is a difficult task," Moore said.
Whether the money motivates or your conscience calls -- you are the only one who will ever know you called in a tip. Your call is truly anonymous.