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Crime Solvers banks on community support

March 29, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Sometimes people just need a little incentive to go to authorities with information that investigators could use to solve a crime and make an arrest.

The Washington County Crime Solvers program provides just that in the form of monetary rewards of up to $1,000.

Ruth Cunningham, president of the Crime Solvers board of directors, said the group is in the midst of its annual fund drive to raise money for potential tipsters. However, Cunningham said results have not been overly successful, and the funding pool is low.

"Our organization depends totally on donations from the community and businesses," Cunningham said.

Crime Solvers is designed to encourage witnesses needed in unsolved criminal investigations to come forward with information that leads to an arrest or indictment. Cunningham said many tipsters likely would not do so without incentive like a reward.

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"If we can sweeten the pot a little bit, it makes it easier for people to come forward," Cunningham said.

Washington County Crime Solvers, a volunteer organization, has been together since 1981, Cunningham said. The board of directors currently is made up of eight civilians and three area law enforcement officers - Maryland State Police Trooper Russ Plante, Detective George Brandt from the Hagerstown Police Department and Cpl. Roy Harsh from the Washington County Sheriff's Department. Cunningham said the board works closely with all three agencies.

Among the incidents in which Crime Solvers have given rewards for key information was a July 9, 2002, robbery at F&M Bank in Clear Spring.

Clear Spring resident Bob Davis and Anna Summers of Big Pool were rewarded by Crime Solvers for their aid in the arrest of a man charged with that armed bank robbery. Both received $100 for their assistance.

Cunningham said civilian involvement in the board of directors is key because they sometimes are most knowledgeable about what is going on in their neighborhoods.

"Civilians are the people we rely on for tips. So do the agencies," Cunningham said. "Heaven knows the police can't be everywhere."

Trooper Russ Plante said the main goal of Crime Solvers is to get criminals off the street. Plante said it might become difficult to offer rewards in the future unless more money is raised for the group. He said the reward fund pool has become severely depleted.

"One or two high-profile cases and we'd be at a dangerously low level," Plante said.

Plante said more serious, high-profile investigations including homicides, rapes or robberies including an injury can, at times, carry rewards of $1,000. He said it is the board's decision on the amount of the reward in each case.

Crime Solvers' telephone hot line number, 301-733-4141, can be called for more information about the group. Donations and rsums or letters from those interested in joining the board of directors can be sent to Washington County Crime Solvers, P.O. Box 994, Hagers-town, MD 21741.

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