By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — After 30 years of helping to solve crimes, Crimeline of Southern New Hampshire has disbanded.
A major decrease in tips in the last several years prompted the organization’s board of directors recently to discontinue its anonymous tip line and website.
“People weren’t calling in,” board member Ron Penczak said yesterday. “We really haven’t had a lot of tips over the last five years.”
Crimeline helped solve approximately 70 cases over the years, leading to the conviction of 42 criminals, he said. The tips led to the recovery of $71,000 in stolen property and $37,000 worth of narcotics, Penczak said.
It began as Salem Crimeline in July 1984, then expanded in 1995 to also serve Derry, Londonderry and Windham.
The organization was the only one of its kind in Southern New Hampshire, even though police departments generally ask the public to call them with tips or to submit them through their websites.
Crimeline tipsters received up to $1,000 if the information they provided led to a conviction. Community donations helped fund the effort, with details on each suspect publicized through the media’s help.
But Penczak said the public is generally not as willing to report crimes as in the past. He had been with Crimeline for nine years.
“I don’t think that they want to get involved,” Penczak said. “I don’t think that people realized the tips were anonymous.”
He also said a decline in newspaper readership made it tougher to get the word out.
Tip lines tend to be more successful in large cities than towns, Penczak said.
“I think in the big urban areas, such as Manchester, they are doing well,” he said.
Penczak said despite the cooperation of the community, media and police departments, it just wasn’t enough to keep Crimeline going.
An organization that once had 21 board members saw that number fall to 12, he said.
Local police officials said Crimeline was a valuable resource for their departments but the number of tips they received dropped sharply.
“It was certainly a good tool,” Salem Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said. “It was a great way to get the word out to the public about crimes. We wished more people had called in with tips.”
Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas agreed.
“I think it was helpful to have as a resource,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t provide us with many tips that we need to solve crimes.”
Thomas said many people prefer to submit tips through the police department’s website rather than call.
Manchester police Officer Paul Rondeau said while other New Hampshire Crimelines have seen tips plummet in recent years, his department’s program has been very successful.
The Manchester Crimeline has helped solve 3,500 crimes since 1981, he said. Rondeau attributed the program’s success to a strong, dedicated board of directors and a lot of help from the community.
“Crimeline has helped take a lot of drugs off the street,” he said. “It’s been very successful.”
He did not want to speculate on why Crimeline hasn’t been as successful in other communities. Rondeau said the advent of caller ID has probably discouraged many people from phoning in tips.
Four years ago, the Manchester police department averaged about 120 phone tips a year. It now receives about 400 tips annually through use of its Crimeline website, he said.