Monday Q&A: Stanislaus County Crime Stoppers director far from clueless

rahumada@modbee.comJune 9, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    Rosalio Ahumada
    Title: Courts reporter
    Coverage areas: Criminal cases, breaking news
    Bio: Rosalio Ahumada has been a reporter at The Bee for more than seven years, previously covering crime and public safety issues. He also has worked at the Merced Sun-Star, covering education.
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    E-mail: rahumada@modbee.com

— The Crime Stoppers program in Stanislaus County was designed to encourage the public to help law enforcement capture wanted fugitives, and Carla Castro has played a key role in developing the tipsters hot line.

She's the executive director and has worked on behalf of Crime Stoppers since its inception in 2005, promoting, expanding and fund-raising. So far, tips have helped authorities capture 351 fugitives, and the program has paid about $48,000 in cash rewards.

Castro's reward is hearing from crime victims and sometimes their families, who appreciate seeing advertisements on wanted fugitives and unsolved cases.

"It reminds them that their cases aren't forgotten and law enforcement continues to pursue these suspects," Castro said.

As the tips program's director, Castro also has heard from those not happy with Crime Stoppers. One wanted fugitive called the tip line to say he was tired of Crime Stoppers profiling him and he was going to turn himself in, she said.

He didn't turn himself, and he was found hiding in a home. He called Castro the following day from jail, remorseful he didn't surrender even after he was found. He told her authorities used a bean-bag projectile gun to apprehend him, and it didn't feel good.

The captured suspect also called Castro to ask about the reward for tipsters. "He wanted to know if he could get paid for calling in," she said.

The Bee also had some questions for Castro, but we were not interested in a reward. We wanted to know how Crime Stoppers got started and where is it heading.

Q: What were some of the expectations when Crime Stoppers started?

A: The expectations were that we would incorporate all law enforcement in the county to be a part of the program. Within two years of starting, the Sheriff's Department and all police departments in the county were a part of Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers.

Q: How has Crime Stoppers changed or expanded from its original goals?

A: We started with a toll-free number that went to voice mail on a single phone line. Now, we have a 24-hour call center where you speak to a Crime Stoppers call taker, a Web program for sending in tips on the Internet, and you can also text a tip.

In October, we started a program in the middle schools and high schools of Stanislaus County called Students Speaking Out. This also is an anonymous tip program that allows students to report crimes and receive a reward for information that leads to an arrest or identification. We hope that this will deal with issues such as bullying, drugs and gangs on school campuses.

Q: Which captures of fugitives stand out as highlights in your mind?

A: One case that stands out was an assault on a woman who had every bone in her face broken. The fugitive remained at large for weeks and committed two other robberies during that time. He was apprehended after a caller tipped us off that he was in a Newman home. The caller put themselves at risk, staying on the line with me and giving me a description of what the suspect was doing in another room. The SWAT team and other law enforcement officials surrounded the house and took him into custody. This was a brutal crime, and the tipster probably helped save lives of other people he may have harmed while on the run.

Q: How has the response from tipsters changed from when Crime Stoppers first began?

A: Tremendously. In the first year, we would receive 20 to 40 tips a month. Last month alone, we received more than 331 tips. I see a familiarity that callers have, that they know they can call in and feel comfortable using our service. In the beginning, tipsters were skeptical as to someone finding out who they were.

Q: How do you go about selecting which fugitives should appear on the Most Wanted list on the Crime Stoppers website?A: Fugitives are submitted by local law enforcement. Cases that are of higher priority, such as a homicide suspect, would be profiled in The Bee first, vs. a property crime case. All cases are profiled on the website, regardless of the type of case. An active arrest warrant must exist for suspects to be profiled.

Q: Do you get more tips from phone calls, or digitally via text and email?

A: To date, we still get more cases via phone calls, but the second most would be emails and then mobile devices.

Q: Crime Stoppers also features crimes with unidentified suspects. What type of response do you get from tipsters on those cases?

A: Cases where the suspect isn't known generate a lot of tips. We have assisted law enforcement with cases where suspects were caught on video, such as armed robberies.

Q: What brought about the creation of the Students Speaking Out program? For instance, was there a rise in student bullying, or a lack of students willing to report offenses?

A: We did see a rise in the reporting of bullying and drugs on campus, and we wanted to assist schools in providing this program to the students. It has started off well, and we intend to push forward at the start of the school year with more information to students to encourage them to use Students Speaking Out.

Q: Do you see any other expansions or spinoffs from the Crime Stoppers program?

A: We are always looking for new ways to expand Crime Stoppers in working with the community and law enforcement. We have assisted Merced, Napa and Los Angeles police departments in starting similar programs in their areas. If we look for expansion, it would be in promoting the program in communities around us.

On the Net: http://stancrimetips.org.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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