Crimeline celebrates 10th year

By Angeljean Chiaramida

Hampton Union, Tuesday, October 8, 2004

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON - Thanks to calls made to Crimeline of the Hamptons, two bank robbers and a child pornographer are off the streets and citizens are a little bit safer in their homes, according to Paul Ford, the chairman of the volunteer nonprofit organization. Whether it's allowing residents a safe and anonymous way to inform police about past or potential crimes, or an additional funding source that supplies vital equipment for local police departments, Crimeline plays a meaningful role in the law enforcement scene, according to police departments in Hampton, Hampton Falls and North Hampton.

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, it was started in 1994 by Jerry McConnell and the police. The organization is run by a board of volunteers that makes the policies and raises the money needed to keep the initiative viable, Ford said.

Along with Ford, the board includes Christine Twitchell, Bob Dennet, Doc Noel, Geoff Youngclaus, Joanne Nadeau, Tom Mahoney, Dan Nersesian and Peter Phillips.

These volunteers have the professional assistance of three police liaisons, Ford said: Hampton Falls police Chief Robbie Dirsa, North Hampton police Sgt. Michael Maddocks, and Hampton police Lt. Dan Gidley.

Paul Ford, chairman of the Crimeline for the Hamptons, celebrates the tip line's 10th anniversary. [Photo by Jamie Cohen]

The money raised keeps the phone and e-mail accounts up and running, and pays for rewards offered to those who provide anonymous information that leads to arrests. Money also goes to equip the three police departments with needed items not in their budgets.

Robbers caught

According to North Hampton's Maddocks, it was a Crimeline tip that led to the capture and conviction of the two thieves who robbed North Hampton's branch of the Bank of New Hampton last March. Additionally, Maddocks said, after arresting the two individuals responsible for that robbery, police learned they'd also robbed two other banks in Portsmouth and Exeter.

Information about the child pornographer also came from a Crimeline tip, Ford said.

"(Three) years ago," Ford recounted, "a citizen called with a tip about a North Hampton resident who was involved in child pornography. ... The tip led to a major investigation by the local jurisdiction and the FBI, which found 10,000 pieces of child pornography in the individual's home. ... He was convicted and there was a major jail sentence."

Putting such criminals behind bars, Ford continued, " makes our towns better places to live."

Important in crime fighting

Ford and all the police officials interviewed agreed that not every Crimeline tip results in the prevention or solution of a crime. But, they carefully pointed out, the outlet the Crimeline offers those who want to remain anonymous while still helping police catch the "bad guys" is important in crime fighting.

"I find a lot of people call Crimeline of the Hamptons out of frustration to report people who are dealing drugs," said Hampton's Gidley. "The callers may fear retribution if it gets out they've contacted the police, and with Crimeline, they can remain anonymous."

In the fight against illegal drugs, Gidley said, a Crimeline tip on a Bragg Avenue drug dealer resulted in a reward going to a Crimeline caller when the drug dealer was arrested. In another drug-related case, he said, a Crimeline tip about a drug dealer on M Street and Ashworth Avenue also proved productive.

"We get on average about 20 to 30 tips a year, though not all are paid," Gidley said. He monitors activity on the Crimeline phone and e-mail account, which are located at the Hampton Police Department.

"The e-mail account we've set up really helps a lot," Gidley said, "because it's even faster at getting the information to us. When an e-mail message comes in, it notifies me immediately on my cell phone."

After the information comes in, Gidley said, it's evaluated and relayed to the appropriate town.

Both Gidley and Maddocks offered some important advice to those who call or send information to the Crimeline. It's important to leave at least a nickname and a way for officers to get back in touch with callers. Police officials usually have questions after getting the tip, they said, and without a way to contact the caller, vital information may go to waste.

Also, they added, if the information results in the apprehension of a criminal, officials need to get back in touch with the informant to send the reward that is often offered by Crimeline.

Anonymity assured

Leaving a nickname and phone number won't interfere with the caller remaining anonymous, both Gidley and Maddocks said, and making callers testify in court is not part of Crimeline's format.

Equipment Crimeline's purchased over the years for the three police departments also helps keep the small departments current with technology, beyond that which overburdened local budgets allow.

"We've had a very good experience working with the Crimeline," said Hampton Fall police Chief Robbie Dirsa. " The technological equipment they've purchased for us is very important. We're a small department with a tight budget. ... The digital camera they paid for last year is very popular with our officers. They always grab it when they're on their way to do investigations."

All three police contacts agreed, Crimeline purchases help bring their towns current with today's technology, save taxpayers thousands of dollars and make police work more effective and efficient.

"The (digital) equipment has allowed us to come up to 21st century technology out in the field," Gidley said. "And a couple of years ago, Crimeline bought us all a time-lapsed video recorder, player and printer."

Gidley said the time-lapsed VCR allows police to review video surveillance tapes made by local banks, convenience stores and other businesses. Surveillance tapes are recorded at a different speed than other tapes, Gidley said.

The player also allows police to isolate the picture of a suspect or missing individual, Gidley said, print and distribute it to other jurisdictions, the media and the public. It's a valuable tool, police officials agreed.

How does Crimeline of the Hamptons raise the thousands it takes to perform its function?

Ford said sometimes area residents and businesses make outright donations to the cause, but the group also hosts a semiannual and popular fund-raiser.

"About every two years we hold a celebrity softball game," Ford said. "We had the last one this past August. We play retired members of pro baseball, hockey and football teams. ... This year, for example, former Bruins Brad Park, Terry O'Reilly and Ken Linseman played. Linseman is also a Hampton area resident."

Former pennant-winning Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee was on the mound for the celebrities, Ford said, taking on Crimeline's team of volunteers and police officers.

"I played centerfield," Ford laughed. "It was the first time I'd swung a bat in 20 years. ... We lost; the score was 15 to 9. ... The Crimeline team always loses, but the community wins."