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Using your cell phone to fight crime

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RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) - Only a few hours after releasing the photos of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the FBI received a rush of tips, pictures, and videos from the public. Experts say technology has not only changed the way detectives solve crimes; it has altered how the public helps out.

"I'm very pleased to see how quickly they found these two people," Chuck Renfro, Chairman of the Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers Program, said. "And that was done by people with smartphones, cameras, or anything they had."

Anonymous tips about crimes in and around Richmond go to Crime Stoppers. Those tips are then sent to local police departments.

Crime Stoppers program, which started in 1984, has evolved with technology, said Renfro.

Early on, detectives used notepads and land line telephones to take tips. Now mobile calls, text messages, and web tips are all major methods of recording any tips they receive.

"The technology is very, very important in getting the information to investigators so that they can go out and start the investigation somewhere," Renfro said.

Since the program's inception, nearly 5,000 arrests have been made as a direct result of tips into Crime Stoppers.  [Click for more statistics on the Crime Stoppers program]

According to Renfro, the tips they get now often include pictures and video giving detectives direct evidence into cases.

"It's been very effective in helping law enforcement solve these cases, and solve them quickly," Renfro said.

The investigation in Boston continues to unfold, but Renfro thinks tips from the public have helped investigators get to this point.

"The information that they have been given has helped tremendously," Renfro said.  "And that's the way, I guess, we all should work in our country."

Crime Stoppers is a non-profit program that receives zero tax money for operations.  Most of its funding comes from various fundraisers they hold throughout the year and donations from citizens.

Not every tip leads to an arrest, according to Renfro, but many times investigators link multiple tips on the same crime to help develop leads.

All tips are completely anonymous.  Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers works with five counties (Henrico, Hanover, Goochland, New Kent, and Charles City) as well as the city of Richmond.