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Crime Stoppers aids in fighting Ceres crime
Anonymous reporting system helps police get tips to act upon
Carla Castro, executive director of the Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers organization, enjoys helping channel tips from the public to affect the arrests of at-large suspects. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Armed robberies, assaults, burglaries and clandestine drug labs are among the specific types of Ceres crimes that have been solved with arrests made through the confidential Crime Stoppers tip hotline.

"We use Crime Stoppers a lot," said Ceres Police Lt. Brent Smith. "Our detectives use it most of the time."

During its eight years of operation, the Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers has resulted in the capture of 355 fugitives. Some of those have been Ceres cases, like the tip that led to the 2010 arrest of Brian Gomes after having committed a number of crimes in Ceres.

A vast number of tips involve the reporting of marijuana harvest operations in Ceres and Modesto.

"Most of the cases we've helped crack in Ceres were higher level cases like burglaries," said Carla Castro, executive director of the Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers.

The non-profit agency, which is headquartered in the former Modesto police department building on Tenth Street in downtown Modesto, routinely takes information from anonymous tipsters and directs it to police officials who use it to investigate and bring criminals to justice. Ceres police, said Castro, has been very good about forwarding cases to Crime Stoppers so that suspects' faces and descriptions are placed before the public on Crime Stoppers' website, as well as on its Facebook page.

Crime Stoppers also has a Facebook which puts new wanted suspects into a person's newsfeed.

"We post them on Facebook. Facebook is a big deal with solving some of these crimes."

An encryption process ensures that a tipster's identity is never known or revealed. This freedom encourages people to report with fearing they will be disclosed, said Castro.

"We don't even have caller ID," said Castro. "Sometimes I spend a lot of time convincing people of this. I tell them try this out, test me out."

How much information somebody wishes to divulge is up to that individual. While Crime Stoppers promises that a caller will remain confidential, some suspects may figure out who finks on them based on circumstances.

"I tell people that if this is something that can come back and you're going to be harmed because of it that you should think before giving us the information," said Castro. "They just need to decide the best thing to do."

Castro recalls how one tipster supplied a lengthy amount of information that led to the arrest of a person for a double homicide on the west side of Modesto. Modesto Police detectives talked to the tipster - who supplied details that only an insider could know - through a computer server.

"All of our tips are encrypted, whether it's a text tip or web tip so we get to have a conversation as long as they leave their computer open and they don't opt out, which means you don't want to speak to someone."

Castro said all Crime Stoppers in California received a boost with passage of AB 1250 in June. The law gives volunteers or employees with Crime Stoppers the legal right to refuse to disclose the identity of a person who has provided a tip on a crime.

"Even though our tips are very sanitized ... it's pretty invaluable to protecting individuals," said Castro.
Information that leads to an arrest results in the offering of a reward of up to $1,000. Crime Stoppers has paid out $46,325 in reward money in five years' time in Stanislaus County.

There are several ways to send a tip about a crime. The first method is calling 572-9500 or 1 (866) 60-CRIME to speak to a live operator 24 hours per day. In fact, most tips come into Crime Stoppers that way and the tip count often reaches 30 to 40 per day. The second most used method is via the website,, which has a form which may be filled out anonymously. The third way is by texting to the number 274637 with the words "tip 704" included in the message.

Each person offering information is given a code number. If the tip leads to an arrest, confiscation of a weapon, or the solution of a crime, that person will receive a reward ranging from $10 to $1,000. The code allows the tipster to have access to a cash reward at a bank without ever giving a name.

When a tip comes into Crime Stoppers, the information is channeled to the appropriate police agency handling the case. All police departments in the county - including Ceres, Hughson and Modesto police departments -- are members of Crime Stoppers and benefit from the tips. If the tip results in action, Crime Stoppers is notified and a reward is offered to the tipster. In some cases, however, a tipster has refused to the money and is satisfied by seeing justice prevail.

Reward money is raised through donations and the Crime Stopping Cuisine, which is set for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20 at Peterson Hall, 720 12 Street, Modesto.

Crime Stoppers now offers a Students Speaking Out hotline for students, parents, teachers or school staff members to get involved in reporting crimes related to school.

Crime Stoppers encourages the reporting of such illegal activities as drugs, drinking, graffiti, vandalism, burglary, weapons, and gang activity and threats of violence, even if only rumored.

Students Speaking Out in Stanislaus County has generated about 46 tips since implementation. One significant tip centered on a note found on a campus that uttered death threats against students. Four cases have been resolved through the tip line, including a suicide attempt in Turlock and one in Oakdale.

While the student line is the same as the main line, the branding is different said Castro because "students didn't like the expression ‘crime' when it was affiliated with students and so we remarketed it."

The website includes photos of specific people wanted for unsolved crimes committed from throughout Stanislaus County. Last week the website contained information on a man sought by the Sheriff's Department for robbing a south Modesto business at 205 W. Hatch Road on May 30. Ceres police have posted a photo of a woman sought for ID theft from February to May. Another example of tips being sought are for the April 19 murder of Omar Mendoza, 24, who was shot at Lassen and Dallas streets in south Modesto; and a theft of an iPhone on March 14 in the Kmart parking lot.

The website even features a number of cold cases involving missing persons from the area.