Subscribe for 33¢ / day

At the Columbia County Law Enforcement Center, two detectives met with a group of interested and active community members on Monday, continuing the mission of fighting crime across the county.

It was a slow month, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Alexander Agnew told the Columbia County Crimestoppers, with three cases, numbered 74, 75, and 76.

The first, reporting a theft and drug information, was referred to Dane County authorities, the third was a call about a suspected drunken driver, so the Crimestoppers Hotline wasn’t the optimal method of reporting, but in the middle were three calls that helped lead to an arrest.

Everyone was familiar with the case, Portage Police Detective Lt. Dan Garrigan told the group, having gone viral with many people seeing the initial reports of a man who stole a Columbia County Humane Society donation jar from a Portage BP.

Calls led to an arrest of the man who made off with roughly $18 and so it was time to get down to brass tacks of what a reward on that kind of lead is worth. The group came up with $75.

In 2008, the group reported a record 148 tips, resulting in 72 arrests and the payment of $4,300 in rewards. This topped the previous record of 131 tips in 2002.

The group has been meeting since 1995, formed as an unaffiliated volunteer community organization, initially working with Chief Deputy Michael Babcock. The longest tenured liaison to the group is Daniel Garrigan, as a detective sergeant with the Sheriff’s Office starting in 2004, until 2017 when he handed the reigns over to Agnew. Garrigan is still a liaison to Crimestopers as the detective lieutenant for the Portage Police Department.

Since its beginning, the group has received more than 2,000 tips through the Crimestoppers Hotline, a dedicated phone line in the dispatch center.

“The majority of Crimestoppers’ funding has come from Columbia County on the whole,” said Garrigan, explaining that operating costs and rewards have otherwise been made possible through fundraisers.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Agnew presented a check from the county in the amount of $3,000.

“In 2013, we went to Tipsoft, and now people can still call in, the old-fashioned way, but there is also the option of a web tip and text message,” said Garrigan. As with the original 800-number, the web tips and texts arrive anonymously, so that Crimestoppers are able to contact the reporting party, but don’t know who that person is. This makes reward disbursement much easier than with the old system, when a reporting party would need to make a follow-up call to ask if anything came of the tip they provided.

The digitized system has been a massive improvement, according to Garrigan and committee members, over the previous organization involving a tome of paper reports, which were not searchable or convenient for cross-referencing in the way Tipsoft has been.

Members of the Crimestoppers Board of Directors continue to look for volunteers, but in particular are looking for volunteers from across the county. The board now comes from Portage, Pardeeville, Rio, Lodi, the town of Scott, and Lake Wisconsin, but getting representation from the Dells and Columbus has been more difficult.

“If there isn’t anyone from the Dells, the Dells doesn’t get any coverage, so to speak,” said Garrigan, clarifying that the goal is to provide an information resource, going back to the Dells.

“If they are on the board they are more involved and they tell their friends and bring it back to their communities and then the Crimestoppers’ name, phone number, and whatnot, are more readily available.”

“I’m just finishing up my three years as president, I was on the board for two years before that,” said Derek Duane, of Poynette, who works at the MacKenzie Center and teaches hunter education.

“I enjoy volunteering and serving the community. I came from the Department of Natural Resources and that’s pretty much a volunteer position, and I like serving the public,” said Duane. “There are only a finite number of those men and women to take care of crime, so how can we help? This is a good way to do it.”

“It’s not difficult to call this number, but you have to wonder how many people think: I don’t know if I want to get involved or not, and that’s what we’re hoping to do as citizens,” said Jerry Indermark, of Portage, pointing specifically to drugs as an indiscriminate problem for the entire nation—rural, urban, poor and rich people. “I like people and I have to get out and do something, and what is neat about a town this size is that you can really make a difference. I don’t mean to blow it up, but you can do things that get noticed.”

Likewise, although the group receives financial support from the Sheriff’s Office, participation by law enforcement has also been voluntary, as Garrigan put it, “This was something I did on the side.”