The has replaced its old Most Wanted list with a new program, part of a nationwide campaign that pays out cash for anonymous tips leading to arrests.
Officially launched Wednesday afternoon, Napa Valley Crime Stoppers offers up to $1,000 and anonymity for tipsters, even if the arrest is not followed by a conviction.
Acting on the information from the caller, deputies will investigate the report and if an arrest is made, the tipster will receive the cash reward, sheriff's deputy Jon Thompson said.
“Unlike most rewards that require information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect, Crime Stoppers only requires an arrest,” he explained.
Thompson emphasized that tipsters' identities will remain unknown.
“I don’t even know who made the call,” he said.
Thompson said many people who witness a crime are afraid to report it.
“Anonymity is a very important factor in the program,” he continued. “We never ask for names or interact with any caller.”
Here's how Napa Valley Crime Stoppers works, Thompson said:
Whether phoned in to the answering service or texted via cell phone, the tip is given an identifying number.
When an arrest is made, the tipster -- or a representative -- goes to Wells Fargo bank, presents his or her number to a teller and receives the cash in an envelope, “no questions asked," said sheriff’s Sgt. Craig Nickles.
Nickles said the national Crime Stoppers program is designed to be a joint effort of the community, police and media working together to stop crime and arrest those who break the law.
“It’s one of the cheapest ways to fight crime,” he said.
Thompson said the public needs only to report a crime or a possible crime.
“Once that is done, we will put the case together. That’s our responsibility,” he said.
Thompson also cautioned the program is not meant to harass anyone: "Information from the caller must be substantiated.”
Nickles added that Crime Stoppers is not just for preventing crimes and making arrests: “We also focus on quality of life issues.”
Although the program is spearheaded from the Sheriff's Office as part of its Problem Oriented Policing Program, Thompson said it will accept tips from within city limits and hopes to partner with local law enforcement agencies. The Calistoga and St. Helena police departments have both joined the program, he said.
The program is funded through donations, Thompson said. Among its major sponsors are vintner Michael Honig and the Rutherford Dust Society. Their participation stemmed from a series of costly thefts of solar-power panels from Upvalley vineyards, he said.
Nickles believes Crime Stoppers will be successful.
“We made many, many arrests from tips we received from the Most Wanted list,” he said.
“This new program doesn’t single out one wanted person and offers a cash reward as well.”
Tips can be made by calling the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-450-9543 or texting to 274637 with NVCS at the beginning of the tip.
If a person is calling to report a crime in progress, police say to call 911.