It was 16 months ago that the Sunnyside neighborhood was rocked by a grisly machete attack that happened in broad daylight.
Flagstaff police believed the assailants were a pair of suspected drug dealers known by the nicknames “Applez” and “Sauce.” The Flagstaff Police Department arrested 19-year-old Andrew “Applez” James Jaurequi on attempted first-degree murder charges around two weeks later, but they could not find the second suspect.
Then in July 2013, police finally caught a break when some anonymous tipsters called Coconino County Silent Witness. The tips led police to San Jose, Calif., where 28-year-old Luis “Sauce” Leyvas Sanchez had been hiding. He was arrested by U.S. Marshals in California and brought back to Flagstaff, where he is still being held at the Coconino County Detention Facility.
“We got the two (attempted) murderers off the street because of the reward,” said Emmaline Roloff, who chairs the Silent Witness Committee.
122 TIPS, NINE ARRESTS
Coconino County Silent Witness is a decades-old nonprofit program that allows any person to anonymously provide information that could help local law enforcement solve crimes they might otherwise not be able to solve.
It works like this: A tipster contacts Silent Witness online, by phone or by text message. Once they submit the information, it goes directly to the Silent Witness staff at the Flagstaff Police Department. The person immediately receives a secret identification number. They are never asked for their name or any other personal information.
“They don’t ask for a name, they just ask for information (about the crime) and try to get as much detail as possible,” said Silent Witness Supervisor and FPD Sgt. Ryan Darr. “Even if a defense attorney subpoenaed them, we wouldn’t have the name.”
The information gets forwarded to the agency that is working the case, and if it leads to an arrest or helps solve a crime, the tipster can present his or her secret number at a designated bank and receive the reward without ever showing any identification. That person has one year to collect the reward.
In 2013, Silent Witness received 122 anonymous tips. They led to nine arrests and helped to solve 11 crimes.
“It’s so valuable for us,” Darr said.
TIPS FROM ALL OVER
Typically, Silent Witness gets the most calls regarding cases that have been publicized in the media, especially if law enforcement has asked for the public’s help. It is also common for Silent Witness to receive tips about suspected drug-related activity through its online TipSoft program.
Other times, concerned citizens call Silent Witness because they have seen or heard something that concerns them, whether it’s a theft or drug activity or some other type of crime.
“If a business gets broken into, somebody out there knows who did it,” Roloff said. “If you can just keep putting it in the paper enough that there’s a reward up to X number of dollars, someone will call.”
People also call when they learn about a fugitive who is either hiding out in Coconino County or has fled the county to avoid arrest.
“We get tips from all over the country,” Darr said.
A tipster may be a family member, an acquaintance, a neighbor, or just somebody who overheard a suspect bragging about a crime he or she committed.
Flagstaff police, Northern Arizona University Police Department, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety all benefit from tips gathered through the Silent Witness Program. Each month, representatives from those agencies meet in the auditorium at the Law Enforcement Administrative Facility in Flagstaff to tell the all-volunteer Silent Witness Committee how many tips have led to arrests and solved crimes the previous month.
“Sometimes the people that call in will tell you where (the suspects) are, what they’re doing, what the address is, so (law enforcement) is able to have enough information from this person that they can get a warrant for their arrest,” Roloff said.
NO DANGER OF RETALIATION
The committee then votes on the rewards that will be given to the anonymous tipsters. A useful tip can be worth between $100 and $2,000, depending on the severity of the crime. Last year, the committee approved $6,850 in reward money.
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“The interesting thing is, sometimes people never pick up the award,” Roloff said. “I think sometimes they simply wanted to get that person off the street.”
Whatever a tipster’s motivation might be for calling Silent Witness, it does not matter to the committee.
“We don’t want to know who they were,” Roloff said. “We don’t want to know if they’ve called in somebody one time or if two years ago, they called in someone else. We don’t care. The whole point is to catch the people that are doing bad stuff.”
Darr said the program is important because it gives people a way to help stop criminals without the danger of retaliation.
“This is the one way that we can really protect individuals who try to give us information to help solve crimes,” Darr said.
MONTHLY ATTENDANCE DROPS
The Silent Witness Committee is made up entirely of volunteers who are not active members of law enforcement. The committee is not involved in taking the tips or in investigating crimes in any way. It is responsible for raising and distributing the reward money that keeps Silent Witness running.
But the committee needs new blood.
Jerry Thompson has been on the Silent Witness Committee for about seven years. Although there are about 25 standing members on the committee, he has been frustrated to see the number of committee members attending the monthly meetings dropping recently. That is why he wants to encourage more community members to join Silent Witness.
“We need people,” Thompson said. “The last few meetings I’ve been to, we’ve been lucky to get a quorum.”
At least three committee members have to be present to vote on distributing rewards. It takes even more people to tackle the Silent Witness Committee’s other big challenge: fundraising.
“We have to go out and raise money,” Roloff said. “We have to go out and knock on doors. We have raffles.”
The next Silent Witness raffle will be held June 28. Past prizes have included resort stays, iPads and season passes to Arizona Snowbowl.
The Silent Witness Committee is also in desperate need of a grant writer who can help the organization apply for state or government funding.
Roloff said the amount of money the Silent Witness Committee needs to bring in this year is hard to pin down.
“We have to leave the money in the bank to cover a year’s worth of awards, which could be $1,000 for the whole year or could be $10,000 for the whole year,” Roloff said. “It depends on how many bad crimes there are.”
Joining the Silent Witness Committee is simple. The group meets every second Tuesday of the month for around 20 minutes starting at 5 p.m. in the auditorium at the Law Enforcement Administrative Facility, located at 911 E. Sawmill Road. Anyone who wants to join can simply go into the building and tell the staff at the front desk they are there for the Silent Witness meeting to be let in. If someone goes to three meetings, they automatically become a Silent Witness Committee member.
Thompson said the more people who join, donate or provide tips to Silent Witness, the safer Coconino County will be.
“It gives people a way to help our community by giving information about criminals that have done something or are suspected of doing something, and helps get them off the street,” Thompson said. “Silent Witness is a great system to protect our community,”
Michelle McManimon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2261.