Crimestoppers adds online reporting tool; tip volume similar to last year so far

City and county law enforcement launched a new software system earlier this year that allows for people to give anonymous tips online or through a phone app.

The P3 software is being promoted by Cascade County Crimestoppers, but is funded by the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office and the Great Falls Police Department.

So far, it hasn’t generated an increase in call volume, according to Blue Corneliusen, a detective with CCSO.

But the numbers are on par with last year’s call volume of 146 tips, which led to 74 arrests and closed 268 cases.

Corneliusen said in other areas where the P3 software has been implemented, the call volume tends to increase as public awareness of the program increases.

Crimestoppers was established by the CCSO in the 1980s and is a nonprofit that offers rewards for information that leads to arrests. The organization is managed by volunteers and the rewards are funded by donations, Corneliusen said. He’s the CCSO coordinator for the program and in 2017, Crimestoppers gave $2,650 in rewards for tips that led to arrests.

The program started in 1985, according to CCSO, and in that first year the program paid its first $1,000 reward for a tip received on a fatality that occurred during a hit-and run. That first year, the program led to 166 arrests, 137 convictions, $188,922 of recovered stolen property and narcotics, cleared 240 felony cases and 47 misdemeanor cases, according to CCSO.

In February, the County Commission approved a contract with Anderson Software for $1,700 for the first year and $1,500 for the following years for the P3 system. The county is sharing the cost with the City of Great Falls.

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Since the system allows for tip submissions online and through an app, it reduces calls through the local dispatch center, Capt. Scott Van Dyken of CCSO told commissioners.

Corneliusen said that when people call the Crimestoppers number, 727-TIPS (8477), the call would be answered by the CCSO or GFPD offices and after hours, jail staff took the call.

“It’s a headache off local staff to have this ability,” Corneliusen said.

Tipsters can still call the tipline, but in other areas that have implemented the P3 software, 85 to 90 percent start using the online system and the app instead of calling in tips, Corneliusen said.

Information from Crimestoppers tips can’t be used to get warrants, Corneliusen said, but it can generate leads that help investigators.

“Some lead to arrest, some don’t, but it’s a way to communicate,” he said.

The online system is interactive, so when you give a tip, the system will give you a Crimestoppers number and a password that allows you to login and check the status of your tip and communicate with investigators anonymously.

Great Falls/Cascade County Crimestoppers is the second in Montana to implement the P3 software, Corneliusen said. It’s also in use in Helena/Lewis and Clark County.

The Crimestoppers board meets monthly and determines awards for tips that led to arrests.

The Crimestoppers network is typically looking for tips on individuals wanted by law enforcement for their part in criminal activity, or tips on suspicious behavior, but people should still call 911 for an immediate threat.

Local law enforcement also works with federal agencies that can send reports back when tips through the Crimestoppers system led to an arrest and Corneliusen and his team will verify that information and the local Crimestoppers board will determine whether a reward should be paid and the amount of that reward.

Those rewards are funded entirely off donations to the Great Falls/Cascade County Crimestoppers, he said.

When the board decides to give a donation, they send the information to a local bank branch and message the tipper through the P3 system. When the tipster gives the Crimestoppers number at the bank, the clerk issues the check and the tipster remains anonymous.

The only time they’ll ask for a name, Corneliusen said, is when a successful tip comes from out-of-state and they need to mail a reward check.

“It’s a great program,” Corneliusen said. “We’ve got a lot of good people here in Great Falls” who have helped with tips.

If you have information about criminal activity, you can call Crimestoppers, or the non-emergency number: 727-7688. You can also make police reports online for non-emergency issues within the city limits on the city website. If you see a crime happening or in emergency situations, call 911.