Cindy Miles has a surefire way to shock anyone she’s having a conversation with.
It doesn’t involve a Taser, a party trick or an obscure piece of trivia, either.
She merely has to tell them that Crime Stoppers of Sedgwick County is supported entirely by donations.
“They’re stunned,” said Miles, president of the board of directors for the 35-year-old nonprofit organization.
Crime Stoppers provides various ways people can call, e-mail or text information about crimes anonymously. Those providing tips that result in the arrest of people responsible for crimes can receive rewards of up to $2,500.
Relying on donations has sustained Crime Stoppers for decades – until this year.
Simply put, Crime Stoppers is running out of money.
Little more than a decade ago, Miles said, Crime Stoppers was averaging more than $20,000 a year in donations. The total for donations so far this year is $425.
“Talk about picking your jaw up off the floor,” Miles said.
Through the same time period last year, donations to Crime Stoppers were just short of $13,000.
Miles said the organization isn’t sure why donations have evaporated.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the economy’s not been great for several years,” she said.
“Maybe they just think it happens and they don’t need to be involved,” said Pat Jones, executive director of the Wichita Crime Commission, which oversees Crime Stoppers. “We need to let people know that’s how we give out these rewards.”
Because Crime Stoppers is used to help solve crimes, most people assume the program receives funding from law enforcement agencies, officials said.
“We don’t have any ties to the police department or the sheriff’s office,” Miles said.
The independence is needed, Miles said, so tipsters can feel confident they will remain anonymous.
The drop in donations comes even as Crime Stoppers is receiving record numbers of tips, officials said. The organization logged 223 in August, Miles said, and routinely averages between 150 and 200 tips a month.
This year marks the 40th anniversary nationally of Crime Stoppers, which was created in 1976 in Albuquerque in an effort to solve the fatal shooting of a convenience store clerk. Wichita’s branch of Crime Stoppers started four years later.
The organization wasn’t well-known locally until a tip led to the arrest and conviction of two women who robbed the Church’s Fried Chicken on North Broadway on May 3, 1983. An employee, Julie Rosenhamer, was shot and killed during the robbery.
Nationwide, Wichita Police Detective Wendy Hummell said, a case is solved due to a Crime Stoppers tip every 14 minutes.
“That’s pretty significant,” said Hummell, who is assigned to Crime Stoppers and sifts through the tips, directing them to the proper law enforcement agency to investigate.
Her work sometimes includes communicating anonymously with tipsters who have filed information electronically, she said.
Locally, more than 3,000 arrests have been made due to Crime Stoppers tips in the program’s history. More than $5.1 million in property has been recovered and more than $600,000 worth of illegal drugs have been seized, according to statistics on the Crime Stoppers website.
For decades, tipsters called a phone number to relay information about crimes. Now they can send text messages or go online to submit anonymous tips.
Miles said about 60 percent of crime tips now come via the new platforms.
“Just the number of tips we received would tell you it’s still a very effective way to catch criminals and get them off the street,” Miles said.
Officials have discussed various ways to increase donations, from reaching out to local businesses to holding a murder-mystery event next spring.
They’ve even joked about standing on street corners, holding out a hat and asking passing motorists for loose change, Miles said.
“It’s been an important part of the community,” she said of Crime Stoppers. “It’s amazing how many crimes we’re involved in” solving.
One recent high-profile example was a tip leading to the arrest of three people convicted in the theft of a wedding ring from the finger of a woman who was dying from an aneurysm in the drive-through lane of a Taco Bell in 2013.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said a Crime Stoppers tip was pivotal in closing another homicide: the fatal shooting of former South High football player Jordan Turner in 2013.
“The case would not have been solved without that,” Bennett said.
Turner had been missing for weeks when his body was found in a field near Pawnee and 127th Street East on May 1, 2013. An autopsy determined he had been shot about a month earlier.
Two men and a woman were convicted in the case. Prosecutors said Turner was shot because he used counterfeit bills to purchase about $360 worth of marijuana.
Perhaps the best measurement of Crime Stoppers’ value and effectiveness, Bennett said, is that it is still going strong decades after being established. It operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“That tells you how important it is to law enforcement,” Bennett said.
7 high-profile cases solved by Crime Stoppers tips
▪ The fatal shooting of Julie Rosenhamer at the Church’s Fried Chicken on North Broadway in May 1983. Two women were charged and convicted in the case, which officials say “put Crime Stoppers on the map” locally.
▪ The 2013 shooting death of former Wichita South High School football player Jordan Turner. His body was found in a field in early May, about a month after he was shot. Two men and a woman were convicted in the case.
▪ The September 2015 fatal shooting of Jacquelyn Harvey in her house on South Chautauqua. A tip provided information on the location of one of the two suspects. Authorities said the man and woman convicted in the case went to that area to collect a debt but went to the wrong house and shot Harvey before realizing their mistake.
▪ A double homicide outside The Place Bar on Jan. 10, 2015. Andrew Smith and Quentin Brown were killed and two other people were wounded in the shooting. A Crime Stoppers tip led investigators to the man later convicted in the case.
▪ A 2005 tip led to the arrest and eventual conviction of a suspect in the rape and robbery of an elderly woman at her home two years earlier in the 1300 block of South Kansas. The suspect was imprisoned in the state of Washington at the time the tip came in.
▪ A woman walking in Old Town in October 2015 was attacked and critically injured by a man on a bicycle. Several days later, a tip led to the arrest of a 59-year-old man in the case.
▪ A tip led to the location of the car connected to a hit-and-run that killed Lloyd Ferguson as he was giving a boy a ride on his horse along 21st Street North late on the night of July 5, 2013. The boy was seriously injured but survived. The driver of the car later pleaded guilty.
How to donate
▪ Donations can be made through the Crime Stoppers of Wichita-Sedgwick County Facebook page.
▪ Shoppers at Dillons can designate Crime Stoppers as the nonprofit organization they want to support. Dillons donates to nonprofits designated by shoppers.
▪ Checks can be sent to Crime Stoppers of Wichita-Sedgwick County, Box 2601, Wichita, KS 67201