Gulf Coast Crime Stoppers Offer A Safe Way To Break The Silence

No one wants to live under a cloud of pervasive crime in their neighborhood or without closure when a loved one is abducted too early. That’s why we have Gulf Coast Crime Stoppers.

Since June 6, 1984, Escambia County residents have had a lifeline with the nonprofit to report anonymously and be rewarded for information that brings justice and peace of mind to local families.

The public may be quite familiar with the Crime Stoppers advertisements seen on park benches, billboards, city buses and along the grounds at sporting events. But some might not realize how safe and effective this resource is when they want to help solve a crime without getting directly involved, local law enforcement officials have said.

“You can give the same information through Crime Stoppers, no one knows who you are,” said the Sgt. Melony Peterson, Gulf Coast Crime Stoppers (GCCS) coordinator. “You never go to court and you never have to worry about someone retaliating against you or becoming a potential victim. “

Crime Stoppers began in Albuquerque in September 1976. It has grown into a network of 1,200 programs in 20 countries, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. It is a partnership between the community, the media and the police to ensure the safety of the communities.

The aim is to provide law enforcement with useful information on unsolved crimes when usual investigative methods have failed to produce solid leads. GCCS has received over 75,000 tips since its inception in Escambia County.

Locally, the program is hosted at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Chip Simmons has donated a full-time position within the department to ensure vital information gets to the right investigators as quickly as possible.

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Peterson said the number of tips received typically fluctuates between 150 and 300 tips per month. To date, GCCS has approved more than $ 1.2 million in awards for information that has resolved over 19,000 cases.

A recent example of the program’s merit is the hundreds of tips Simmons said that led to the arrest of wanted suspects in the gunshot murder of Ladarius “LD” Clardy, 18, a former school football star Secondary Pine Forest, back in July.

Clardy perished and his passenger, Eric Young, 19, was injured when five suspects fired more than 50 shots at Clardy’s vehicle after being wrongly identified as someone who shot one of the shooters. Five suspects were charged in October with premeditated first degree murder.

Gulf Coast Crime Stoppers pays cash rewards for anonymous advice leading to the arrest of suspects wanted for criminal crimes.

“This family will get at least one shutdown,” Peterson said.

Violence has a way of bleeding fear and hopelessness into lives and communities.

Peterson said she understands why people are afraid of being labeled a snitch and therefore becoming a target, just to try and do the right thing. For this reason, anonymous reporting is the way to go, she said.

“It’s such a safer road to take,” said Peterson.

She added that it is in everyone’s best interests to break the silence when violence strikes.

“These young people need to understand that they deserve a safe place to live.

Informants helped identify Markquise Deshawn Wallace, a suspect who was later convicted of a fatal hit and run on June 6, 2018 on West Cervantes Street.

Souvenirs are placed in a makeshift memorial on West Cervantes and M streets for Nephateria Monique Williams and Neariaah Ikerria Williams in 2018.

Pedestrians Nephateria Monique Williams, 28, and her 8-month-old daughter, Neariaah Ikerria Williams, were struck and killed by a white Dodge Challenger driven by Wallace. A third pedestrian, Quineka Tyon Baldwin, 27, was also injured.

Tipsters also aided in the arrest of Dewayne “Money” Pinestraw, who became one of America’s Most Wanted in 2011.

Pinestraw was wanted in the shooting deaths of 19-month-old Ty’Quarius Moultrie and the aggravated battery of 23-year-old Vincent Dennis after firing at an occupied unit in the Pensacola Village apartments in July of the same year.

Authorities followed reports from many states and eventually tracked Pinestraw to his hiding place in Texas, where he was using an alias to evade law enforcement.

How does Crime Stoppers work? Are you really anonymous?

Peterson said the most common advice received relates to fugitives, narcotics and vapers on school grounds.

“People are skeptical of Crime Stoppers ‘anonymity because they fear reprisal from the suspect or from the suspects’ family and friends,” Peterson said. “No one wants to be called a snitch.”

Peterson hopes the public will feel more confident in reporting anonymously to Crime Stoppers by understanding the process.

The informant rewards are made from the Crime Stoppers Trust Fund passed by the Florida Legislature in 1998 and from private donations to individual programs. The fund is formed by county and circuit courts imposing an additional surcharge of $ 20 on fines for criminal offenses. This year, the Florida Department of Legal Affairs awarded nearly $ 4.4 million to support 26 anti-crime organizations in the state.

“Not all tipsters come to collect the reward. Some just want these people arrested, ”Peterson. “Some people just want to do the right thing and not have to go to court.”

The Crime Stoppers model works because it only pays out rewards if anonymity is maintained. Anyone reporting a tip online, through the P3 Tips app, or by calling 850-433-TIPS can be assured that their name, phone number, and location are in no way visible.

In fact, Peterson said the disclosure of credentials immediately disqualifies a tipster from receiving an award because it violates program rules. Disclosing his identity and the information he has about a crime makes him a witness who may be called to court for his testimony.

Simmons was a strong supporter of the program before he wore the sheriff’s badge. While serving as Deputy Chief and Chief of the Pensacola Police Department, Simmons filmed a weekly Crime Stoppers reenactment on local television to highlight unsolved crimes and promote the anonymous reporting system.

“There is no reason to keep information to themselves,” Simmons said. “They might not be able to tell us who did it, but they can tell us who was there or what other witnesses were involved.”

Simmons expressed the hope that citizens will see Crime Stoppers as a resource to keep their communities safe.

“I would like neighborhoods and communities to come together and say this will not be tolerated,” Simmons said. “Who knows better what’s going on than the people who live there? This information will help us clean up the place where they live.

The Escambia County School District has placed the P3 Tips app on public school laptops so that students can anonymously report incidents that take place on campus, such as bullying, fights, threats, weapons, drugs and vapers. Student rewards are paid in the same way and range from $ 50 to $ 1,000.

When a tip arrives at Gulf Coast Crime Stoppers, a tip identification number is provided. The rewards are calculated by software that keeps the process impartial. Rewards can go up to $ 3,000, but payments can reach $ 5,000 if approved by an elected volunteer board of directors that meets monthly at town hall to review cases.

Tip ID number is what is used to collect reward payments in an anonymous location that is not subject to any type of monitoring.

“An informant needs to be protected,” Peterson said.

Mark M. Gagnon