Giving time, fighting crime: Volunteer organization helps Waco PD solve cases

Waco Crime Stoppers help McLennan County solve crimes and participate in local events such as Waco Trunk or Treat. Photo courtesy of Cierra Shipley

By Josh Siatkowski | Staff Writer

The Waco Police Department doesn’t get a day off in the fight against crime, but it isn’t alone in that fight.

Waco Crime Stoppers is an organization of civilian volunteers who work to help solve cases in the McLennan County area. The service allows people to anonymously submit tips about unsolved crimes at the Crime Stoppers hotline or through the P3 Tips app.

Waco PD Officer Sofie Martinez serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator and acts as the liaison between Crime Stoppers and Waco PD. She said the uniqueness and importance of Crime Stoppers come from the anonymity of their tip system.

“You have citizens out there who don’t want to talk to police for fear of reprisal,” Martinez said. “They want to say something, but they don’t want people to know.”

Martinez said in 2023 alone, the anonymous tips provided through Crime Stoppers’ services led to 30 arrests in previously unsolved cases as well as the recovery of over $15,000 of stolen property.

These statistics add to the total impact Crime Stoppers has had since its inception in 1981. According to the Crime Stoppers website, tips have led to a total of over 2,800 arrests and the recovery of over $2 million in stolen property.

Martinez said many of these cases wouldn’t be solved if it weren’t for the tips provided by Crime Stoppers.

“A lot of times, it’s a case where detectives have just come to a wall, and that tip may lead to something that [the detective] had not followed up on or known about,” Martinez said.

As far as what type of offense Crime Stoppers most commonly solves, Martinez said it most often receives tips about theft and drug-related crimes. However, she said for nearly every crime that the public knows about, Crime Stoppers receives multiple tips.

“[Recently], there was a hit-and-run case,” Martinez said. “And when [the public information officer] put it out, I went to P3, and sure enough, we already had like six tips.”

Tipsters whose information leads to arrests are often given cash rewards. According to Dena Dietrich, the treasurer for Waco Crime Stoppers, this reservoir of reward money is supported by the McLennan County court system, which donates a portion of probation fees to Crime Stoppers.

Martinez said rewards are decided by software that analyzes the crime, and it can recommend a cash reward of anywhere up to $2,000. Martinez sends this recommendation to the Crime Stoppers Board, who then adjusts the reward to what it feels is a fair amount.

Martinez said in 2023, Crime Stoppers gave out over $13,000 in rewards.

Although the number is large, Dietrich said the amount of reward money the board approved is actually much larger, as many tipsters choose not to collect any money.

“We wrote far more than [$13,000],” Dietrich said. “I bet we voided that much or more.”

Aside from providing officers with much-needed tips, Crime Stoppers has a number of community outreach endeavors. From putting up posters in high schools to setting up booths at Waco PD events, Crime Stoppers is actively engaged in bringing awareness to its services and the effectiveness of them.

Along with these, Crime Stoppers also has a media presence. They have their own Facebook page that highlights unsolved crimes, and they have advertisements on various TV and radio stations.

Martinez said Crime Stoppers is featured weekly on KWTX in a segment called “The Wheel of Justice,” which spotlights a suspect that Crime Stoppers is seeking information on.

She said Crime Stoppers does a similar thing on different radio stations, and these radio announcements have even won awards. At a Texas Crime Stoppers convention in 2023, Waco Crime Stoppers won first place in the public service announcement competition.

These conferences, however, are not just a time for Waco Crime Stoppers to share their success with other groups. Anita Harris, the chairman of the board for Waco Crime Stoppers, said these conferences are a great place to connect with other crime stopper groups and learn.

“We have lots of different speakers on different subjects, everything from human trafficking to border patrol or traffic safety,” Harris said.

With all of these other responsibilities on top of simply keeping the anonymous tip program up and running, the work of volunteers like Harris and Dietrich is plenty. Martinez said the members of the board are a very humble group and often do more work than they say.

While it’s a lot of work, Harris and Dietrich alike said they love what they do. For Dietrich, knowing that her and her colleagues’ efforts are successful has kept her involved in Crime Stoppers for 22 years.

“The community is actually benefiting from what we’re doing, so our time doesn’t feel wasted,” Dietrich said. “It’s actually valued.”

Martinez, Harris and Dietrich all agreed that, in the end, the most rewarding part of Crime Stoppers is knowing you have provided a victim with the closure they deserve.

“[Knowing] that [the] victim can rest easy, that’s the reward,” Martinez said.

To provide Waco Crime Stoppers with an anonymous tip, call 254-753-4357, visit its website or download the P3 app.