SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — CrimeStoppers of Savannah-Chatham County is a nonprofit that is 100% anonymous and accepts crime tips 24/7. It’s the only tip line in the area where at all times of the day, you will be met with a living person on the other side.
“In this job, you really have to assume that everything is truthful and everything is important, and it’s really incumbent upon the detective to determine if that’s gonna be useful for them to investigate or not,” said Brittany Herren, who has been the executive director of CrimeStoppers of Savannah-Chatham County for four years.
Tips, which could qualify for a cash reward, are only accepted when they come through the phone line or the tip form online.
“That’s super important because that is the only way that we can absolutely 100% protect your identity,” said Herren.
Herren and her tip coordinator review thousands of tips that come in each year and review every single one. Based on where the crime happened and the current investigation, they send the information to the corresponding police agency.
“Once we hand off the tip to a detective, it is their responsibility to then take that tip and run with it,” said Herren.
Your tips are safe
“We do not track telephone numbers, IP addresses, emails, location,” said Herren. “There’s no geolocation when you call, you can be calling from Hawaii and we would have absolutely no idea.”
CrimeStoppers has been subpoenaed multiple times to give up information on a tip received, but since the tips are completely anonymous, no identity can be found.
Herren notes the importance of full anonymity due to the stigma of talking with police, especially in lower socioeconomic areas in Savannah where crimes happen.
“The kind of people that tend to give us tips based on the information given in the tip, are people that probably live in those areas,” said Herren. “Those people who maybe don’t wanna be retaliated against and are scared of retaliation, especially in these crimes dealing with drugs and gangs.”
Those who are involved in criminal activity are also encouraged to reach out to CrimeStoppers with any information that could solve a case, even with a potential reward.
“A lot of people don’t even accept the reward,” said Herren. “I would say in my four years that I’ve been here, more people don’t accept the reward money than do.”
Herren believes those in the community want to be safe and protect their families over money.
“One thing we don’t do is just send a tip and assume it got investigated or assume it’s in the right hands. We follow up on absolutely every single tip,” said Herren.
They ask whether there was an arrest if information was useful or if a tip was unfounded.
Tips deemed unfounded are kept on file even years after the tip was submitted.
“Just in case another tip comes up years down the line and it’s related, we’ll be able to tell the detective,” said Herren.
Why do this type of work?
Herren started her career as a journalist writing for the Valdosta Daily Times.
“I just always loved seeing my stories in action,” said Herren. “And you see something positive for your community come out of that exposure, it just does something for me personally that just made me really driven to want to do that.”
She later moved to communications working for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.
Herren came to the nonprofit because she had a passion for work that impacted her community. Her driving motivation comes from cold cases.
“I still talk to the victim’s families regularly of multiple cold cases,” said Herren. “They just live with it in their brain, ingrained, never going anywhere and it eats at them. That really kind of lights a fire under you.”
Over the years, Herren says that she has seen crime go up drastically.
This aligns with a study by the Council of Criminal Justice which found that the first half of 2023 saw a 24% increase in homicides compared to 2019. Additionally, they found that from January to June of 2023, motor vehicle theft is up 33.5% compared to the same period in 2022.
“This is a period in history where thoughts and prayers, and positive vibes just are not cutting it anymore, and we need action in CrimeStoppers as an organization that can help provide that action in a community,” said Herren.
What tips do they use?
Unless they are outlandish claims or conspiracy theories, all tips are sent to the police department, but why?
“I’ve spoken to so many detectives here in Chatham County, where a lot of times it is like the most innocuous detail that can help solve the case,” said Herren. “Like it could be one small thing, where to me and you, it looks really insignificant.”
To help organize and distribute tips received, they use a software called Navigate360, which looks at all of the tips in the database and finds keywords between leads so that CrimeStoppers can compare information and relay it to detectives.
Although not in use, Herren is not opposed to the use of artificial intelligence.
“I really do think that there is a place for AI and investigations, particularly for stuff like that,” said Herren.
To get more attention to cold cases, Herren writes and publishes articles on the case, which she does for free on her off time.
A cold case that stuck with Herren is the murder of Saundra Thomas, who was shot and killed in her house in 2017. There were no signs of forced entry and she was shot in her bed; evidence points to someone close to Thomas.
“It’s one of those cases where they probably know who did it, but there is just not enough evidence to be able to substantiate an arrest and a charge,” said Herren.
Support for CrimeStoppers
As a mother of three, dealing with death and violence on a daily basis, especially when it involves young children, can be challenging.
“I have to really turn it off, and that was something that was really hard for me at first,” said Herren. “I used to wake up like in the middle of the night stressing out about stuff at work.”
She is not alone though. Her supportive team helps each other through the day.
Still, the struggles of a nonprofit can increase the strain.
“It’s extremely difficult because of funding, every day, your entire life is just making sure you can keep the phone lines on and keep your employees paid,” said Herren.
Last year, the City of Savannah cut the CrimeStoppers funding by 50% unexpectedly, according to Herren. She says it’s a critical blow since their main source of revenue comes from the city and Chattam County.
Herren calls for support from the public so that they are able to put more energy into their mission.
“The biggest thing right now it’s just if anybody could absolutely find it in their heart to even send a check for $10, that that makes such a huge difference,” said Herren. “The second thing is just sharing with your neighbors and your peers and your friends that CrimeStoppers exists.”
You can call CrimeStoppers any day, anytime at 912-234-2020.