Dale Edwards is the law-enforcememt liaison for the Reno/Sparks/Carson City-area Secret Witness program, a volunteer-staffed telephone line that enables people to make anonymous tips about unsolved crimes. A former board member of the nonprofit group, Edwards is a retired federal special agent who lives in Reno.
What's the history of Secret Witness?
Secret Witness was started in the Reno/Sparks/Carson City area in June 1979. It began after a group of local citizens became incensed about the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Lisa Bonham in September 1977 and the murder of University of Nevada student Michelle Mitchell.
This group of citizens set out to come up with a plan to help local law enforcement solve crimes in the local communities. As a result of their actions, a special telephone line was established to enable citizens to call and provide information relating to unsolved crimes without identifying themselves.
In doing so, the citizens were entitled to receive rewards for providing the information.
How did you become involved?
The board of directors is comprised of volunteers from the local community. These volunteers are professionals, businesspersons and retirees. I joined the board in 1978 because I strongly believe in what Secret Witness is doing and trying to accomplish.
I also felt it was my duty to give back to the community and help try to make Northern Nevada a safe place to live for my family, as well as the rest of the community.
What should someone expect when they call?
When a citizen calls the Secret Witness Hot Line at 322-4900 or the School Secret Witness Hot Line at 329-6666, they will speak with an operator who will take their information relating to an unsolved crime and issue the caller a code number.
The citizen will be told to keep the code number in a safe place and use it whenever they contact Secret Witness concerning the matter about which they called.
The code number is also used to validate the caller at the time any reward is paid.
What happens with the information received?
Any information received from a Secret Witness caller is immediately forwarded to the appropriate law-enforcement agency. Law-enforcement officials then review the information and ultimately determine whether the information provided was instrumental in solving the reported crime.
Law enforcement then notifies Secret Witness, which in turn determines whether a reward is payable.
Does anonymous mean completely anonymous? Do you ever have to give your name? How is that avoided?
Secret Witness never asks for a name from the caller. We only deal with a code number.
The caller is never required to give a name; however, on occasion, if the caller volunteers that information and is willing to work with law enforcement he or she may be entitled to an additional reward amount for his or her service to the community.
The vast majority of callers remain truly anonymous, and we have no means of identifying or contacting the callers.
If the same tip is received more than once from different people, how do you decide who gets the reward money?
Generally, the reward goes to the first caller who provides information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect(s) for an unsolved crime.
However, there have been rare occasions when more than one caller has provided significant, but different, information relating to the crime, and the board has determined that each of the callers is entitled to a portion of the reward.
Where does the reward money come from? How are the program's operating costs funded?
Monies paid out in rewards are donations received from reward co-sponsors. These co-sponsors are comprised of members of the local business community, corporations, professionals and concerned citizens.
The co-sponsors are billed periodically during the year for their share of the reward monies paid out. The list of sponsors is significant, and each sponsor is generally billed for an amount of $200 to $400 annually. The Secret Witness program itself is operated on grant money and donations from the local community.
Secret Witness has no paid employees. Everyone is a volunteer.
Secret Witness does not pay rent or utilities. We do pay for telephone service, some advertising and promotional items.
What is your success rate?
Secret Witness is highly successful. We have received many accolades from the law-enforcement community for our service to them in helping solve local crimes.
Secret Witness receives between 150 and 300 calls a month. As a result of these calls, Secret Witness has assisted in solving well over 500 crimes, with approximately 25 of these being homicides.
In addition, Secret Witness has paid out tens of thousands of dollars in reward payments.
Is Secret Witness a national program, or is it exclusive to this area?
There have been crime-fighting organizations around the country since the late 1930s. Today, there are numerous crime-fighting organizations going by a variety of names, including Secret Witness and Crime Stoppers.
Why is Secret Witness important?
Secret Witness is important because it provides a means for the public to get involved in helping law enforcement solve local crimes and still remain anonymous.
Secret Witness enables anyone to enlist in the war on crime by making an anonymous telephone call. Of the calls that Secret Witness receives, approximately 20 percent actually call back for the reward. The remaining 80 percent call in because of civic pride or duty.
Secret Witness is a tool for law enforcement and costs law enforcement and the public nothing.
Secret Witness provides a means for callers of almost any nationality to call in and give crime-solving information. Our Hot Line is capable of translating over 160 different languages.
Secret Witness also provides a Web site - www.secretwitness.com - on which the public may report crimes or get up-to-date information relating to current and past crimes in the community.
The goal of Secret Witness is to get the public involved and get as many crimes publicized as soon as possible. We provide a safe, private and anonymous means for information to be forwarded to law enforcement. And as a reminder, Secret Witness pays rewards for information on all crimes.