It may be said that the secret to the success of Crime Stoppers is "the secret."
When someone reports evidence of a crime to the 36-year-old criminal investigation program, his identity is so thoroughly protected that emails are routed through Canada to be washed clean of traceable information and when he collects whatever reward he is due, the exchange takes place through an uninvolved third party or, most often, through a clandestine encounter in a shopping center parking lot.
That anonymity, Crime Stoppers officials told the Daily Herald's Justin Kmitch for a story this week, is a key to the program's remarkable, if quietly consistent, achievements.
That and, as state chapter President William Nation surmises, the good inherent in most people.
"I truly believe a large majority of the people believe in right over wrong and are just reluctant to get involved," Nation told Kmitch. "This just gives them the vehicle to send information to the police without worrying about retribution."
There is, he acknowledges, another motive at play, too -- the profit motive, which in the rich tradition allowing "no honor among thieves" spurs many bad guys to rat out potential competitors.
Whatever the driving force, Crime Stoppers' numbers tell an impressive story:
Illinois' Crime Stoppers chapter -- formed in 1983 -- has helped solve nearly 1,600 crimes this year alone. Tips to the organization have led to 370 arrests and the recovery of property valued at more than $412,200 -- almost 10 times the amount of the rewards paid out of just under $45,000. A sound investment, surely -- even sounder when considered over the life of the program: $153.8 million in property returned, with rewards of $6.4 million and nearly 74,000 crimes solved.
It's worth noting in all this that estimates run as high as 90 percent of the tipsters who want no reward at all. "They'll call and tell us about a drug house or a problem area and then hang up ...," said Arlington Heights Police Sgt. Tom Saleski. "They don't want the money. They just want us to fix the problem and make everything better."
So, here's to "the secret" that is behind such notable success, but let's not also forget the action agent on which the secret works -- you. That is, all the individuals who have maybe one little piece of information that may complete the puzzle of a mysterious crime or just help it begin to take shape.
It's from within that overwhelming core of people -- the sneaky crooks out to narrow the field notwithstanding -- who want a better, safer neighborhood or who, as Nation said, "believe in right over wrong" that springs a well of crime-fighting information that investigators might otherwise never know. May "the secret" keep that information flowing whenever and wherever crimes are committed in the state and the suburbs for many years to come.