The success of Metro Crime Stoppers, a non-profit volunteer group that provides rewards for tips that help clear crimes, has been a little too good.
The group, which broadcasts television re-enactments of crimes in Baltimore City and four suburban counties, including Harford, has been paying out more reward money than it has been receivingin donations, said Barbara Long, administrative coordinator for Metro Crime Stoppers.
"Crime Stoppers has been so very successful that we are literallygoing out of business," Long said. "We are in need of funds. There are no two ways about it."
Michael J. Agetstein, chairman of the group's board of directors, said Crime Stoppers has about $10,000 remaining in its till -- enough to pay for rewards and operating expenses for another eight months.
Metro Crime Stoppers, like other volunteer agencies in the Baltimore area, is scrambling for donations as companies and citizens have reduced charitable contributions in the leaneconomic times, Agetstein said.
Despite the budget crunch, Long said, Crime Stoppers is expected to continue broadcasting crime re-enactments and paying rewards for tips until more donations come in. Several fund-raisers are planned to start this summer,she said.
An example of how broadcasting re-enactments and offering rewards generatetips for police investigations occurred in January when Crime Stoppers featured an unsolved Harford case of a Nov. 23, 1990, beating and robbery of a Joppatowne man. The victim had been attacked by two men.
Metro Crime Stoppers publicized the incident, re-enacting the event on television and offering a reward.
One day after the television broadcast, a tipster called Metro Crime Stoppers' hot line, providing the nickname of a man as a possible suspect. The informant calledthe hot line again, giving the suspect's address and the full name of a second suspect.
Using the information, detectives arrested thesuspects and charged them with robbery and assault with intent to murder. The informant got a $500 reward.
The beating is just one of more than 1,200 cases Crime Stoppers helped police clear in metropolitan Baltimore since the organization formed in 1981, Long said.
Last year, Metro Crime Stoppers paid 66 rewards totaling $25,450 -- double the 1989 number of 33 rewards totaling $12,225, according to statistics provided by the non-profit group.
Metro Crime Stoppers was established to provide a link between citizens and police agencies toget information on investigations that are often at a dead end, Longsaid.
The organization has covered Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties since 1981. The Harford County Sheriff's Department joined the organization in 1989.
DeWayne D. Curry,spokesman for the sheriff's department, said the tips generated by Crime Stoppers' rewards often play an essential role in solving investigations with few leads and suspects.
"With money involved, it brings out some people who wouldn't normally come forward," Curry said.
Metro Crime Stoppers is one of two organizations offering rewards for tips in criminal investigations in Harford. The other group, Harford County Crime Solvers, is coordinated with the state police at theBenson barracks.
Both organizations offer rewards up to $1,000 for information leading to arrests and indictments. Informants calling Crime Stoppers and Crime Solvers do not have to give their names or appear in court.
Helga Barnes, president of Crime Solvers, said herorganization has not had problems raising money for rewards since itformed in 1987.
Crime Solvers raises about $5,000 a year from an annual bull and oyster roast and requests for donations sent to businesses through the Harford Chamber of Commerce, Barnes said.
The organization also gets contributions from the Maryland State Troopers Association and the Harford County Deputy Sheriffs Union Local 838, Barnes said.
Barnes could not provide statistics on the number and amount of rewards provided by Crime Solvers.
Long said Metro Crime Stoppers raises money for rewards from an annual dinner and donationsfrom civic groups and businesses.
But Crime Stoppers is turning to new sources, including sales of "Stop Thief" bumper stickers, whichcost $1.50 each, Long said.
Crime Stoppers paid $145,370 in rewards between 1981 and 1990, according to the organization's statistics.The organization has helped police clear 1,263 crimes, led by robbery, burglary and homicide cases.
Of those cases cleared three were in Harford during the 1981-1990 time period. This year, two Harford cases were solved through Metro Crime Stoppers.
Crime Stoppers is handing out more reward money because people are becoming more willingto take steps against crime, particularly if they can protect their identity, Long said.
However, crime in metropolitan Baltimore is increasing, so Crime Stoppers has become involved with more cases, Long said.
"People are in bad financial straits," Long said. "You have the drug problem. Society is having a difficult time. All the violent crimes seem to be increasing. Who knows the answer?"