Student Crime Stoppers helps keep campuses safe

Posted at 6:11 AM, Dec 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-23 13:44:38-05

The unthinkable to many parents has become an unfortunate reality, occurring dozens of times in South Florida already this year. 

Weapons are taken on school grounds, and crimes are committed by children. 

Student Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County has been working for 22 years to eliminate the problem through the help of peer tips.

The crimes range broadly across the spectrum.

"Auto theft, burglary, narcotics, weapons, battery," said Sgt. Jim DeFago, who created the Student Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County, Inc. program. 

The program is anonymous and rewards are possible.  The call center does not have caller identification, so the only way a student could be identified is if they themselves choose to tell someone, DeFago says.

The crimes often occur on school campuses, but they don't have to.  Students will call regarding crime in their neighborhoods.  The program has had so much success in Palm Beach County, DeFago says more than 300 programs around the country have used it as a model.

"We solved one case that it was an auto theft ring, and it was students that were involved in it," DeFago said.

The program is similar in most ways to the adult version of Crime Stoppers.  Callers remain anonymous.  They are provided a secret code so they can call back to check on their tip and potentially get a reward.

There is one main difference between the programs, however: Instead of only hearing about crimes after they happen, it can work as a crime prevention tool.  Once a tip is received, the call center notifies school police of the issue immediately and action is taken on campus. 

"And you know, there's been fights that have been stopped.  Actually, we've taken weapons out of students' hands," DeFago said.

Totals since inception of the program, as of December 2015:

  • 1,395 calls received
  • 694 arrests made
  • 682 cases cleared
  • 707 times administrative action was taken
  • 6,700 days of suspension assigned
  • 51 days of detention
  • 25 days of bus suspension
  • 19 students transferred to another school
  • 3 students withdrawn from school
  • $156,016.00 property recovered
  • $42,835.00 narcotics confiscated
  • 221 weapons confiscated
  • 50 firearms confiscated
  • 144 knives confiscated
  • 28 other weapons confiscated
  • $56,110 rewards claimed
  • $19,145.00 rewards unclaimed

The program is not funded through taxpayer dollars.  Donations of money, goods and services have kept the program going through the decades. 

While parents and teachers are working to keep campuses safe, DeFago says there's an added layer of information that comes from peers of students.  The anonymous element of the program allows children to speak up without fear of ridicule or concern for safety.

"The bad guy or girl might live right next to you.  Might be a relative of yours," DeFago said.

If a tip leads to an arrest, school discipline, property recovery or seizure of narcotics, a caller could be eligible for a reward.  They can receive up to $1,000 for giving information about criminal activity at school or in the community or $500 for the recovery of a firearm.

Click here for more information or call 1-800-458-TIPS(8477).