The History of
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY/COLONIAL HEIGHTS CRIME SOLVERS, Inc.
In 2009, the Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers program celebrates its 25th year of service to the community, and over the course of those 25 years the program has evolved into an invaluable tool for solving crimes in Chesterfield County and the City of Colonial Heights. The history of the program gives a clue as to where it will be headed in the decades to come.
Every great idea usually has an interesting birth, and such was the Crime Solvers/Crime Stoppers concept. In 1976, a detective from the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department, Greg MacAleese, was working on a rather disturbing homicide that had occurred within the city. Michael Carmen was a young University of New Mexico student who was working at a small gas station in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights in July of that year. He was only two weeks away from marrying his high-school sweetheart, and on the night he was killed he was working an extra shift because one of his friends needed the night off. On that fateful Friday night, two men robbed Michael’s gas station. Then, for no apparent reason, one fired a shotgun blast from less than 10 feet into Michael’s abdomen. Michael died on the operating table later that evening. Detective MacAleese and his partners were determined to bring the killers to justice, but they had very few leads and no one would come forward with information. Detective MacAleese contacted the local television station, KOAT, and worked with them to create a reenactment of the homicide, which was aired in conjunction with a public plea for help. In the plea was a promise of anonymity for people who called with information, and a reward for helpful information. Within 24 hours of the television broadcast, a caller gave information on a car seen leaving the murder scene at a high rate of speed. Less than 72 hours after that phone call, suspects were in custody for the homicide. Not even Detective MacAleese could have realized that this one case would serve as the catalyst for the creation of an international phenomena.
Knowing that citizens were his best source of information, MacAleese was able to convince the Albuquerque Police Department that a program was needed to encourage its citizens to continue providing information on crimes. He identified two main reasons why people were reluctant to provide information to the police: fear and apathy. The fear element stemmed from the thought, realistically based, that criminals would retaliate against those who turned them in. Apathy is the concept that people will not get involved because the issue/crime did not affect them directly, and thus they do not feel the need or obligation to get involved. Detective MacAleese was convinced that the program sparked by Michael Carmen’s murder would be the answer. His Crime Stoppers concept provided an anonymous means to the public for reporting crime information, and offered cash rewards for useful tips. Anonymity, he reasoned, would keep the criminals from learning who reported the information, and the cash rewards would act as an incentive for some to get involved. With this program, citizens had become an integral part of crime fighting in Albuquerque.
Cash rewards for information sounded like a win-win situation for the police, the media and the citizens. Of course, the paying of cash rewards for information was a controversial issue for the police department, so Detective MacAleese worked to form a civilian board of directors to administer the program, and to act as a safe-guard against any potential abuse of its intended purpose. Concerned citizens from all walks of life were chosen to help answer the phone lines, to pay cash rewards to callers, and to raise the money necessary to keep the program going. Again, it was a way to bring citizens into the arduous task of crime fighting, and they performed marvelously. With the fear and apathy concerns handled in the minds of citizens, the Albuquerque program took off as a cooperative effort between the police, the media and the citizens.
There is a saying, “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” In that light, other jurisdictions around the United States looked at the original Crime Stoppers idea as one they ALL could use to better their own communities. Chesterfield County has always enjoyed the reputation of being a county that looks after its residents, and makes decisions in the best interests of all. Colonel Joseph Pittman of the Chesterfield County Police Department learned of this new program in March of 1984 while attending a Chiefs of Police Conference in Virginia Beach, and wondered if the program would work for the citizens he served. He learned about the success of the Crime Stoppers/Crime Solvers programs and was impressed. Upon returning from the conference, Colonel Pittman sold the idea and concept to the police department and the Chesterfield County administrators. The Chesterfield County Crime Solvers Program was born.
Sergeant Jim Bourque was given the task of designing, implementing, and maintaining a program which would best serve the citizens of Chesterfield County. He was able to recruit a group of concerned citizens and held the initial business meeting on March 13, 1984. The first Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers board of directors included: Mr. Jeffrey Spence, Mr. Phil Sawyer, Ms. Karen Cockrell, Mr. Jim Brown, Dr. Hugh Woodle, Mr. Whaley Colbert, Mr. Paul Carnes, Mr. Merle Foster, Dr. Wyatt Richardson, Mr. Ray Fleming, Mr. Daniel Price, Mr. Gary Friedman, Mr. Owen Maiden, Mr. Talmadge Durham, Mr. Francis Calfee, Dr. Samuel Hancock, Mr. Michael Anderson, Mr. Jack Highsmith Jr., and Mr. Michael MacNeilly. Their first order of business was to establish Crime Solvers as a non-profit, volunteer, citizen organization. Committees were then formed to handle various responsibilities: creating by-laws, electing board members, establishing fundraising ideas, etc. The board hit the ground running, and once they were established, they made contact with the various media outlets in the area to begin the public outreach portion of the program. Sergeant Bourque served as the first law-enforcement coordinator and worked with the media to highlight unsolved crimes. As tips came in and cases were resolved, board members paid money out of their own pockets to the tipsters. Today, the Crime Solvers board of directors conducts regular fundraisers, such as a golf tournament and a motorcycle ride, to help supply the reward pool. To put things into perspective, if members were to pay rewards today as they did back in 1984, they would be asked to dig from their pockets more than $20,000 per year!
From Sergeant Bourque, and such humble beginnings, the program has grown and matured into an incredibly successful tool. In fact, late in 1985 the city of Colonial Heights and its police department joined the established Chesterfield program, and the name officially changed to Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers, Inc.
The name is not the only thing to have changed over the program’s 20 years. The “faces” have changed as well. Although it is important for citizens to understand that the program is owned and administered by non-police folks, one cannot escape the fact that police detectives are the ones in the “public eye”. Because the law-enforcement coordinators are sworn police officers, with access to unsolved case information, they logically were given the responsibility of speaking to the media on such cases. The responsibility of being the “voice” of Crime Solvers was one taken seriously by all past and present coordinators. In this light, the Police Department in Chesterfield County puts potential Crime Solvers Coordinator candidates through a screen test to determine the candidate’s ability to speak on camera and work with the media. Sergeant Jim Bourque (promoted to Lt. Colonel in 2004) set the standard as the first coordinator, and new coordinators have been rotated into the position every 3-6 years since then. Detective Andy Scruggs, Det. Alan Thompson, Detective Robert Pridemore, Detective Curtis Tanner, Detective Lorrie Smith, Officer Thomas Kifer, Officer René McCann, Detective Lee Switzer. Det. Rick Mormando, Detective Kevin Bacon, Detective Darryl Skinner, Det. Jacquie Conner, Det. Daimon White and Detective Adrian Otero all had huge shoes to fill when they fulfilled their responsibilities, and through their hard work, publicity for unsolved cases has helped bring closure to many. Fresh faces and fresh ideas have been important to the program’s growth, and many more faces will be seen in the coordinator’s position.
Another segment that changes often is the unsolved crime message. Each week a different unsolved crime is highlighted through the media, and the public is encouraged to call in tips on these crimes. These "Crime of the Week" segments appear on cable television networks (such as Comcast), on radio stations (both AM and FM stations), in multiple newspapers, and in an occasional magazine (Virginia Business). The media coverage of Crime Solvers is imperative, by design, to the success of Crime Solvers, and the Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers program has established and maintained a positive working relationship with all media outlets in the Chesterfield and Colonial Heights areas. As a result, a majority of citizens know that the program exists, even if they do not have information about the crime being highlighted. These outlets have consistently provided airtime to the Crime Solvers’ cause at no charge, which allows fundraising efforts to benefit other important aspects of the program, such as the rewards. Why do the media outlets and the police departments continue their support of the program? It is because the program works. Crime Solvers has proven itself over and over since its inception. From 1984 through April 2004, Crime Solvers has received information on over 17,700 crimes, resulting in the solution of more than 4,300 offenses, the recovery of $1.2 million in stolen property, and the seizure of more than $612,000 in illegal drugs. Crime Solvers tipsters have resolved cases ranging from high-profile homicides to illegal possession of tobacco incidents. Every crime has a victim, and every case Crime Solvers has helped resolve has meant that another victim has seen closure to their case. The media component of the program is just as important as the citizens and the police. Without public exposure, no one would know that the program was ready and able to accept vital tip information.
Crime Solvers has even found a way to involve its youngest citizens. The Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers board of directors worked with Chesterfield’s school board to establish the first scholastic club in 1994 at Manchester High School. Crime Solvers was looking for a way to reach students with an invitation to call the tip-reporting hotline, but with students in school for the majority of their day the task was difficult. It was determined that if school clubs could be established in each high school and middle school, the students themselves could spread the word about the Crime Solvers concept and hotline telephone number. The Manchester High School club, as its parent organization, worked tirelessly to spread the news about the tip reporting hotline, highlighting the fact that schools and neighborhoods could be safer if people (students) would just help get the bad guys off of the streets. They did, and the program worked so well it was expanded into other schools. Eventually, by May 2004, every high school and middle school in Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights was aboard and had a scholastic club. While some clubs are more active in their publicity efforts than others, the collaborative effort shown by all has greatly helped the growth and the future success of the Crime Solvers program.
We can certainly say that since the Chesterfield County/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers program started, it has blossomed into an invaluable crime fighting tool. Citizens should know that the law enforcement organizations, the media venues, and the citizens of Chesterfield County and the city of Colonial Heights are working TOGETHER to make their communities safer places to live and work.