Go, Crime Stoppers

More money, awareness needed, newest board member says

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Tyler Rice removes a customer's baked sandwich from an oven rack Wednesday at the Domino's Pizza in Coeur d'Alene. 

COEUR d'ALENE - There are reasons you don't know the names of board members for Crime Stoppers of the Inland Northwest in Kootenai County.

There are reasons they are kept anonymous.

Criminals, after all, aren't fond of folks who turn them in, or encourage others to do so.

"We protect them. We don't want them to be at risk at all," said Sgt. Christie Wood of the Coeur d'Alene Police Department. "I worry about our board members being public."

Jim Hightowner doesn't care.

The newest board member of Crime Stoppers is coming out, even involving his business, in order to counter criminal activity. And he's calling on other businesses and residents to join him.

"Not only is he coming and talking to the media, he's bringing his business into the fold because he believes it in so much," Wood said. "Jim stepping up like this is tremendous courage for a board member."

"He is really setting a shining example here," Wood added.

Hightower, together with wife Melissa, is owner of several Domino's Pizza franchises in North Idaho. He said since joining the board in January, he's become convinced two things are needed: More donations are needed so it can offer more reward money and increase incentives for people to call police with tips, and raise awareness of its role here.

He said he and Melissa strongly support Crime Stoppers, and won't let worries of retribution keep them from following their convictions.

"I don't want to live like I did in Tucson and Wichita where violent crime and gang-related crimes happen every day," he said. "It's something we don't want to let happen here."

Crime Stoppers of the Inland Northwest was established in 2008. It is a civilian group with a board of directors in Spokane and a board of directors in Kootenai County that offers rewards for crime tips to help law enforcement solve crimes. Callers always remain anonymous.

Hightower was involved with the organization in Tucson and Wichita and knows it is an effective tool for fighting crime. As reward money rose, so did arrests. Ultimately, crime fell.

"The reason why I'm so involved now is because I've learned about it and because I know - I don't think, I know - that crime is growing in this area," he said.

Hightower recounted a story of an employee whose car was recently stolen in downtown Coeur d'Alene. It was later recovered, but he was told the theft might have been part of a gang initiation.

"It's showing up right here in North Idaho," he said. "We need to wake up a little bit and get behind organizations like Crime Stoppers."

Wood said crime is not only up, but it's more violent, as well.

"Property crime with this recession is the worse I've ever seen in my career," she said.

She said when she was a patrol officer in Coeur d'Alene, she would do "community policing," knock on doors and drive alleys to greet people while they were gardening. She got out to know those on her beat.

"That's just about impossible to do with our case load today," she said.

Through Block Watch and Citizens on Patrol, there are programs available for the public to get involved. Donating to Crime Stoppers and calling in with tips are others.

Rewards for tips that result in arrests range from $500 to around $2,000. It's not a lot, said Hightower, so more money might result in more tips.

Last year, Crime Stoppers offered rewards for tips leading to arrests in a bomb threat case, vandalism, a fugitive, a missing man and a case of malicious injury. Several of those cases were solved thanks to tips that came in.

Hightower believes businesses and residents will contribute once they're aware Crime Stoppers needs reward money, and it will make a difference in fighting crime.

"We need the ability of a financial reward for an anonymous tip," he said.

Domino's is leading by example.

In a new program, employees are being trained to ask for donations when taking orders.

"Hopefully our customers will donate," Hightower said.

Wood agrees more reward money matters.

"Absolutely. People are motivated by money," she said. "It is a good incentive."

Some tips come from jail inmates.

"They need the money just like everyone else," she said.

"A lot of criminals turn in criminals," Hightower added.

But Crime Stoppers doesn't have much cash. Wood said if there were a major rash of crimes, involving multiple suspects, Crime Stoppers would run out of money.

"The worst thing would be to not have the money to do it," she said.

Those who claim reward money through Crime Stoppers remain anonymous.

Info: 667-2111 or 1-800-222-TIPS and www.crimestoppersinlandnorthwest.org

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