Crime Stoppers 

How a privately funded organization helps solve hundreds of crimes a year in Memphis.

Buddy Chapman (left), director of the local Crime Stoppers; Jeff Polk (right) of the Memphis Police Department

Justin Fox Burks

Buddy Chapman (left), director of the local Crime Stoppers; Jeff Polk (right) of the Memphis Police Department

On September 30, 2007, University of Memphis football player Taylor Bradford was murdered during an attempted robbery. The 21-year-old business major and defensive lineman was leaving his on-campus apartment when two men flagged him down and demanded money. Taylor, who had recently won $7,000 at a Tunica casino and had told several friends about it, had the money on him that night.

While attempting to drive away, Taylor was shot once in the right side. He managed to flee but lost control of his car shortly afterward and crashed into a tree on Zach Curlin Street. Taylor was transported to the Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Jimmie Bradford, Taylor's father, was in Nashville when he received word of his son's condition.

"I was getting ready to go to bed," Bradford recalls. "We got a call from the hospital chaplain saying, 'Taylor's been shot. Can you come to the hospital immediately?' I said, 'Well, we're in Nashville. We'll be there as soon as possible.' About 20 minutes later, he called back and said Taylor had passed. That tore us all up. My wife was crying and screaming, 'My baby! My baby!'"

The Memphis Police Department's (MPD) homicide division began investigating Taylor's murder. No substantial evidence came forth initially, but after a couple days, someone provided Crime Stoppers of Memphis and Shelby County with a tip that led to the arrest of four men: Victor Trezevant, Devin Jefferson, Courtney Washington, and Daeshawn Tate. All four were tried and convicted. Trezevant and Jefferson received life sentences; Washington and Tate received lighter sentences for their cooperation with police.

"It's good that citizens will step [forward] and make sure people who are doing violent crimes are caught and punished," Bradford says. "Crime Stoppers — along with the police — they were on it. They put all the manpower out to try and solve it. It was the latter part of the week [of the murder] that they got a phone call from a woman sharing information with them about the whole setup. She named everybody."

According to MPD statistics, Crime Stoppers of Memphis and Shelby County has helped local law enforcement make 252 felony arrests so far in 2013, including homicides, robberies, burglaries, and possession of illegal drugs with the intent to distribute.

Though the organization brings significant benefits to the public, its $225,000 budget is privately funded. First Tennessee, the Plough Foundation, and FedEx are among Crime Stoppers' many supporters and funders.

In Shelby County, from January through November 2013, Crime Stoppers tips led to the seizure and recovery of more than $15,000 in stolen goods and led to the identification and arrest of 100 felony suspects. Another 150-plus fugitives — those wanted by law enforcement but fleeing custody — were apprehended by the MPD thanks to Crime Stoppers tips.

Buddy Chapman, director of Memphis and Shelby County Crime Stoppers, estimates that tips help local law enforcement solve about two crimes a day.

"We are particularly valuable in solving the crime of murder," says Chapman, a former MPD police director. "The way a murder is normally solved is a combination of two things. One is physical evidence at the scene. And then [there is] an investigation into the contacts that the murdered person has."

Crime Stoppers was founded in New Mexico in 1976, after the murder of 19-year-old Michael Carmen. Carmen was a college student in Albuquerque. During the summer, he worked at the city's Horn Oil gas station to help pay for his tuition at the University of New Mexico. On July 18, 1976, Carmen took an extra shift to give a co-worker the night off. The goodwill gesture would cost the groom-to-be his life, two weeks before his wedding.

"Shortly before midnight, someone robbed Michael's gas station and then, for no apparent reason, shot him at point-blank range with a .20-gauge shotgun," says Greg MacAleese, then a member of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). "He died on the operating table at Presbyterian Hospital, about four hours after being shot."

Carmen's homicide became the first case that MacAleese, a novice detective at the time, investigated. The shooting occurred on a well-traveled street, but after two weeks of investigation, MacAleese and the APD were no closer to solving the case.

Frustrated by the lack of leads, MacAleese created a video reenactment of the homicide. He guaranteed anonymity and $1,000 to anyone who could help identify those responsible for Carmen's murder. Hours after the video was made public, a man contacted authorities and said he heard a loud blast in the vicinity of the gas station before seeing a car drive off. The caller told MacAleese the vehicle belonged to a resident in a nearby apartment complex. Thanks to the tip, MacAleese and a team of detectives were able to arrest the two men responsible for Carmen's murder.

"It turned out that Michael had been killed for $48 in cash and about 20 cases of Marlboro cigarettes," MacAleese says. "He was killed because the robbers realized that he knew them."

After Carmen's murder was solved, the APD continued to receive crime tips. In response, MacAleese spearheaded the official establishment of the first Crime Stoppers organization.

Now, 37 years later, Crime Stoppers operates all over the U.S., as well as internationally, in countries as diverse as Barbados, Canada, and South Africa. Crime Stoppers claims it has helped recover more than $10 billion in drugs and stolen property and helped instigate more than one million felony arrests. According to Crime Stoppers International, this equates to solving a crime every 14 minutes somewhere in the world.

Jeff Polk, an MPD homicide commander and Crime Stoppers coordinator, says he's thankful that Memphis and Shelby County have a Crime Stoppers organization. Polk says the organization has helped him solve numerous cases over the years.

"[Often] when I had a new case assigned to me and had no idea who was responsible, the lieutenant would forward a Crime Stoppers tip that gave me the leads to start with," Polk says. "From a management point of view, think about the man-hours it saves the department and the city. It gives citizens a way to help combat crime in their neighborhood [and] helps law enforcement stop some of these repetitive dollar crimes or property crimes."

"And just think of the impact on the families," Polk continues. "If those tips had not come in, would [the perpetrators] still be out there? Would those families still be wondering if anybody's going to be held accountable?"

Crime Stoppers of Memphis and Shelby County was launched in 1981. The initial administrative office for the organization was located in an old fire station that MPD used as a boxing gym across from what was then known as St. Joseph Hospital. It's now located at 266 South Front.

Much of Crime Stoppers' success, locally and nationally, can be attributed to the monetary rewards it provides for information. In 2013, through November, Crime Stoppers of Memphis and Shelby County paid out $71,395 in rewards. In 2012, the amount was $65,150; in 2011, $75,320; and in 2010, $82,830.

For most Crime Stoppers organizations (including the one in Memphis), the highest payment for a tip is $1,000. The lowest amount paid is $150. Providing an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers is simple: Call 901-528-CASH and give the operator any information that could potentially lead to the apprehension of a criminal. The informant is provided a "tip number" and told to call on Tuesdays. If their tip is determined to have been significant in solving a crime, the tipster is compensated.

Crime Stoppers' awards committee meets to determine the amount of money a person will receive for providing a tip.

"If you tell us who committed a murder, you get $1,000," Chapman says. "If you tell us where a murderer is — this is a fleeing felon — you might get $500. There are a number of things to figure into this: the crime that was committed; how dangerous the person was that got caught. Those things go into [the amount] they consider."

Citizens can also provide information via email by visiting 528cash.org and clicking the messaging link. They can also send a text message to "Crimes" (274637) with the keyword "Award" included. Just as with a call to 528-CASH, the tipster's identity remains anonymous.

Based on the success of Crime Stoppers in the community, Chapman decided to create a similar program in the Shelby County school system. Trust Pays allows students with information on weapons, drugs, or planned violence to go to a trusted faculty member and disclose the information. The faculty member notifies the proper authorities and the student is eligible for a $50 reward.

"I think it's a tremendous benefit," says Ron Pope, student safety manager for Shelby County Schools. "It allows children the opportunity to get involved in keeping their schools and communities safe. They can report anonymously, with no fear of retaliation. It also teaches them a sense of belonging and a sense of honesty. It really has helped us in terms of improving school safety. Our district over the last two years has received national awards for combatting [issues with] school safety, and I think Trust Pays is one of those [programs] that has assisted us in that."

Since its launch in 2006, Trust Pays has been responsible for removing more than 130 guns from county schools. The program has also led to the removal of razors, knives, tasers, and shanks. And nearly 700 drug possessions and/or drug transactions have been stopped as a result of student tips.

Illegal activity outside of school, such as drive-by shootings, vehicle chop shops, drug distribution, human trafficking, or gang activity can also be reported via Trust Pays.

Another Crime Stoppers initiative is called Senior B Safe, designed to provide security to the elderly. Chapman decided to launch the program after receiving calls from older people who said they had issues with crime in their neighborhood but were too frightened to contact police.

"The primary reason they don't want to call the police is because they don't want to be targets of bad elements in their neighborhood," Chapman says. "If a police car comes to their house to make a report, then they're targets."

Chapman said the organization receives about six calls a week from senior citizens, mostly regarding truancy, illegal activity in abandoned houses, or possible criminal behavior.

"Obviously, we have citizens who are afraid," the MPD's Polk says. "They're afraid of their own communities, and they're afraid of retaliation. [Crime Stoppers] gives them a method to help solve issues and problems in their communities that they otherwise would not have."

David Bratten knows firsthand the benefits of Crime Stoppers. One morning, a man broke into his vehicle and stole several electronic items.

"I went out to get in my car and somebody had opened it up and gone through the glove box and the console," Bratten says. "[They had] taken my GPS, some CDs, [and] power supplies for my telephone."

Bratten had video surveillance on his home. It captured the thief coming up his driveway, rifling through his car, and trying to open his garage door.

Bratten provided the footage to MPD officers, who aired it on television. Someone recognized the man responsible and provided Crime Stoppers with information that resulted in his capture.

"They aired the videos and within less than a week, they had him apprehended down in Mississippi somewhere, because somebody turned him in," Bratten recalls.

Memphis mayor A C Wharton is also a fan of Crime Stoppers. Wharton has initiated a number of programs, including Memphis Gun Down, which seeks to reduce youth gun violence. Wharton has also put together the 901 BLOC Squad, a group of former gang members and felons who are now working to defuse the city's gang problems.

Wharton says he admires how Crime Stoppers makes it easy for citizens to play a role in combatting crime.

"Crime Stoppers allows ordinary citizens to provide valuable information to law enforcement without revealing their identity," Wharton says. "More often than not, this information results in identification of individuals involved in crimes, the recovery of evidence, and ultimately an arrest of a criminal that might have otherwise avoided detection."

Polk echoes the mayor's sentiments. "I can't imagine working without Crime Stoppers," he says. "It's that important to us as investigators. It would be a huge burden if we didn't have an organization like this."

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