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Crime Solvers: One More Tool to Convict

July 25, 2002

The shadow of Sherlock Holmes has become synonymous with Crime Solvers, an effective mechanism for catching the real bad guys.

"People provide information for all kinds of reasons,” said Matthew Natale, the president of the Alexandria Crime Solvers. “We just like to cast the widest net possible.”

The Alexandria chapter of Crime Stoppers International was founded in 1982 and has been active since then with periods of less activity than others. “We have always taken tips and given out rewards,” Natale said. “We just want to be a bit more visible and active now than perhaps we have been in the recent past.”

And that past has been a good one. According to statistics, nearly 400 crimes, including six murders have been solved since the chapter’s inception.

“We use Crime Solvers when we have exhausted the normal investigative methods,” said Corporal Tony Harper, who has been the police liaison for the past five years. “We put crimes out on Crime Solvers when we don’t really have any leads and think that this particular approach could help.”

Like in January, when a senior citizen was approached, robbed and hurt on West Street, near the Braddock Road Metro stop. “It happened at around 3 p.m.,” Harper said. “Police didn’t have any leads and we needed some help to solve this case.”

A tip came in on the Crime Solvers hotline that led to an arrest and conviction. The reward —$500.

“Some people do it for the reward; some for recognition and some for revenge,” Natale said. “You just never know what’s going to motivate people.”

ANOTHER CRIME that was solved through a tip from Crime Solvers this year was the ATM robberies. “Again, we just didn’t have any leads and needed help from the public,” Harper said. “We got a good tip and a conviction.”

Harper said that in about 85 percent of the time, tipsters come forward and claim their rewards. “We take all tips down on Crime Solvers stationery so that it is not an official police interrogation and they cannot be subpoenaed,” he said. “It is very important to us that people can remain anonymous if they want to. They do not have to give their names.”

They do not have to give their names but are identified by numbers. “Sometimes we ask them to call back and give us more information and sometimes they do remain involved but I think it is really rare for them to testify in court,” Natale said.

Natale got involved in Crime Solvers because of a rash of burglaries in his Parkfairfax neighborhood. “I guess it was about 18 months ago,” he said. “We had about 50 burglaries in about 18 months and I really was concerned. I learned about Crime Solvers, volunteered for the Board and then was asked to take on a leadership role. This is really the kind of organization that gets my juices going — it accomplishes something and gets people involved in solving crimes who might never have believed that they could or would have wanted to have been involved before.”

CRIME SOLVERS features a case each month on TV News Channel 8. In addition, each chapter issues about six other Crime Solvers bulletins each year. “We have given out about $52,000 in reward money over the past 20 years,” Harper said. “The average reward is between $100 and $1,000, depending on the case.” The decision on the amount of the reward is left to the citizen board that runs the local organization.

What cases are eligible? “We really leave that to the police,” Natale said. “Sometimes one of us might call Corporal Harper and ask if a certain case might be appropriate but we don’t have any clue what investigative tools have been used and prefer to leave those kinds of decisions to the professionals.” In general, though, any felony is potentially acceptable.

Police, generally, appreciate the tool. “Crime solvers has been important in solving some cases where all other investigative tools have been used,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department. “Sometimes it is the reward that is the motivator that we need for someone to come forward and help detectives solve a case. We appreciate the support.”

NO PUBLIC FUNDS are used for the rewards. Approximately 90 cents of every dollar goes to rewards. The organization is a tax-exempt nonprofit. All contributions are tax deductible. The primary corporate sponsor is Southland Corporation and 7-11 stores. “They have been incredible,” Natale said. “They accept our posters and have been incredibly generous throughout our history.”

Other donations come from individuals. Anyone who is interested in making a contribution or learning more about the organization should call 703-838-4711. Anyone with a tip should call 703-838-4858.