Breaking News
More () »

Anonymous reporting through Crime Stoppers helps families get closer to closure in metro Atlanta

Atlanta Police points to the Secoriea Turner case as one of many examples of when anonymous tipsters helped them track down suspects.

ATLANTA — Local investigators rely on Crime Stoppers Greater Atlanta to fight crime. 

The non-profit program allows people to anonymously report what they know about a crime that has been committed. Every day, about 50 people call the program, giving detectives tips to help move a case along.

Across the state of Georgia, 168 agencies use Crime Stoppers to get tips from people in the community. The Atlanta Police Department is one of them. Atlanta Police Sergeant Ronald Paxson directs the program.

"Monthly, we're proving seven to 10 rewards. Sometimes more," he told 11Alive's Paola Suro in a sit-down interview.

The anonymous reporting can often lead to a cash reward. Paxson said in Atlanta, the program pays up to $2,000, which is higher than the national average of up to $1,000.

"Each case is different," he said. "For violent crimes, you're going to get closer to $2,000."

Sometimes, relatives of a victim will donate money to increase the reward for witnesses willing to speak out anonymously.

A tipster is able to report information several ways:

Paxson said they receive about the same amount of tips on all platforms.

"Once they submit information, they're given a tip number and a password. They're the only ones that know that unless they share it with somebody else," he said. "If you do provide good information, this is the only way you're going to get paid."

Paxson and his team then forward this information to one of the 168 designated agencies using Crime Stoppers, and sends it to the appropriate detective.

"Sometimes it'll take a week. Sometimes it'll take a month — all depending on how long the investigation is," he said. "Eventually [the agency] will let us know a tipster gave them really good information. For example, they ID'd a suspect, they gave us a location, or they gave us a location of a firearm, or a house that was selling narcotics and they executed a search warrant and people were arrested."

If the report helps the agency, the information then goes to a civilian board in charge of voting on how much each tip is worth. The more helpful the tip, the more likely the person will receive a reward. 

At this point, Paxson is out of the equation and the decision on how much that tip is worth falls on the group of civilians on the Crime Stoppers board. The cash is then sent to an undisclosed bank in town, where the tipster has to use their tip number to collect it. 

They do not once have to show identification of any form. However, it is important to note the tipster needs to call to check if their tip led to a reward.

"It's an anonymous bank here in town. Once the tip is approved, they have 90 days to call back and get the information to pick it up. So the only way they can get that information is with that tip ID number," Paxson said.

Paxson says less than 50% of people eligible for a reward pick it up, despite the process being completely anonymous from start to finish.

While the program averages about 50 calls a day, that number spikes during events with violent crime.

Paxson remembers when hundreds of calls a day flooded into the hotline in July of 2020.

“It was to the point where we could not read them all," he said. "So we were reading some that were two or three days old, just because we had a backlog of hundreds and hundreds of tips on that specific case."

That case, being Secoriea Turner's case. The 8-year-old was shot and killed on July 4, 2020 as she was riding in the car with her mother, not far from where Rayshard Brooks was killed.

RELATED: 'Everyone should be held accountable' | Family of Secoriea Turner speaks after two charged, indicted in her death

Shortly after, one suspect was arrested but investigators had said they were searching for more. 

Her father, Secoriey Williamson, told 11Alive the grieving process has been tougher as the years go by.

"She was a daddy’s girl. She was a fearless, Black child. Fun loving. Loved TikTok. She loved to dance," he recalled, with a smile on his face. "She made friends with anybody real fast. She was a good child. Unfortunately she didn’t get a chance to see her future."

Williamson wore a hat and shirt with Secoriea's face on it. He recalls how difficult it was when there was only one suspect behind bars for over a year.

"It’s a hard pill to swallow. Losing a child with my name. My name is Secoriey, her name’s Secoriea. It’s like almost losing myself," he said. "I just wanted her killer to be captured. I didn’t want it to be a cold case.”

A second suspect was arrested August 2021.

Williamson's attorney, Mawuli Davis, adds that when the arrests were made, there was a sense of relief, but it was just one step towards justice.

"We reached out to a lot of community organizations, a lot of people who work in the community, asking for help," he recalled. "There was a sense of relief on behalf of the family. Everyone was angry and frustrated that people would know something about a child being murdered, and not speak on it and not say anything."

As hundreds of calls came into Crime Stoppers, Williamson felt a glimmer of hope.

"It’s a good feeling just to know that the community and people are behind you and they want to see justice," Williamson said. "We losing Black kids to this day and the killers are still not being found. I hope they [call in] for every child, not just mine."

RELATED: Secoriea Turner's father speaks out after judge denies defense's motion to sever cases

Paxson said while he cannot see how much the tipsters made in this specific case, he knows multiple eyewitnesses and concerned citizens helped investigators identify the suspects.

The year Secoriea died was also the same year Crime Stoppers Greater Atlanta received a record number of calls since its inception in 2005.

"We are going through a global pandemic and also crime went through the roof. There was a lot of anti-police rhetoric going on at the time, so you would think that tips would go down, people would be less hesitant to talk to the police and share information. We've seen the exact opposite," he said.

The program received 5,400 calls in 2020 compared to 4,300 in 2021. Each call is a step closer to closure for families like Secoriea's.

"If you see anything happen to a child, you should say something," Williamson pleaded. "All kids need justice. That's our future. Just seeing that somebody was captured there was a lot of relief [otherwise] it would make grieving even worse."

Davis said the family will be at every court appearance as the trial proceeds.

"At some point, letting the jury know who Secoriea was so that she's not just a name, but she's remembered for the precious soul that she was," Davis continued. "It's just heartbreaking that the city of Atlanta really failed this child and her family and every life that she touched."

Each call is also a step closer to solving crimes for detectives.

"It's extremely rewarding to get that rush when you read something that sounds like it might solve something significant," Paxson added.

The funds for the rewards are raised by the Atlanta Police Foundation. The group hosts fundraising events every year and the program receives yearly donations.

"Without donations and supporters, we wouldn't have any money to pay tipsters," Paxson said.

Rewards are given out for any information that can help detectives.

"Maybe you've seen something suspicious, a couple blocks away that you thought about at the time and now maybe the next day you see a crime had occurred," Paxson said. "All that little nuance information that you wouldn't think might be valuable, it can be very valuable."

While the value can sometimes be up to $2,000, it is priceless information for families grieving and hoping for some closure.

For more information, click here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out