An article in the Nov. 24 Prince George's Extra incorrectly identified the police coordinator for Prince George's Crime Solvers Inc. She is Cpl. Diane Richardson. A photo accompanying the story misspelled the name of Edward Schauf, a past president of Crime Solvers. (Published 12/01/1999)

The anonymous calls come in at a rate of up to 50 a week from tipsters who have seen or know something that might help solve a crime. For the past 20 years, the arrangement has paid off, both for the Prince George's police department and the callers themselves.

Last week, Prince George's Crime Solvers Inc. celebrated its 20th anniversary and proudly pointed to more than 1,000 felonies that have been solved thanks to the program that rewards those who spill the beans.

Since 1979, callers who have phoned in tips to Crime Solvers' hot lines (301-735-1111 or 1-800-673-2777) have helped police solve 160 homicides, 252 robberies, 170 burglaries, 120 auto thefts, 30 rapes and five arsons, said Cpl. Diane Cunningham, Crime Solvers coordinator for police.

The hot lines are staffed 24 hours a day by police officers and communications dispatchers who take notes and pass along the information to detectives. Anonymity is assured, and no names are taken. Callers who provide tips that lead to an arrest are eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000, which they can collect without revealing their identity.

Crime Solvers is a nonprofit organization. Its board of directors is made up of 24 business and civic leaders, who meet monthly to decide how much reward money should be given in each case that results in an arrest.

More than $250,000 in reward money has been handed out during the past decade, with the cash coming from private and corporate donations, as well as fund-raising golf tournaments sponsored by Crime Solvers.

"In Prince George's County, unfortunately, except for the District of Columbia, we have more reported crime than anyone else does and, as such, there's more crime to be solved," said Vince Schachner, a Crime Solvers director and an investigator for Chevy Chase Bank. "The tips that we get are usually on cases that law enforcement officers have exhausted all their leads. So these are cases that wouldn't get solved otherwise."

Cunningham, who runs the program's day-to-day operations, said Crime Solvers' biggest challenge is convincing tipsters that they will, indeed, remain anonymous. She said that the hot lines do not have Caller ID and that the police do not trace the calls.

Each caller is assigned a code number--147, for example--and asked to call back later to see whether investigators have more questions or whether their information resulted in an arrest. If so, the Crime Solvers board decides how much of a reward to give out--anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on the nature of the crime and the quality of the tip.

To collect a reward, the informant is instructed to meet a Crime Solvers representative at a Giant Food grocery store in the county, where the cash is handed over without any questions. The person who usually passes out the money is Crime Solvers President George Barthel, a Giant Food Inc. executive.

The discreet arrangement is to reassure callers and prevent them from having face-to-face contact with a police officer, in part so they won't be considered official witnesses to a crime or called to court to testify.

"We're in a position where we don't have to deal with the people who call in, and we don't want to know them," Schachner said. "A lot of our information comes from people on the fringe. Bad guys like to brag."