Why is Huntersville funding North Meck Crime Stoppers?

Before we get to that question, you’re probably wondering what North Mecklenburg Crime Stoppers (“NMCS”) even is. I was wondering the same thing the first time I heard of this group earlier this year on Thursday, January 26 when Huntersville commissioner and current NMCS board member Dan Boone referenced NMCS during the first day of the town board planning retreat. You can read more about this group at their website and in their articles of incorporation attached below. Interestingly, Huntersville isn’t even mentioned in the articles of incorporation they filed in 1990 (the only document found at the Secretary of State’s website). 

NMCS filing

As part of a review of the town’s financial policy during the retreat, the funding of outside organizations was discussed under section B. of the policy. Subsection 5. of section B. stated, “It is the Town’s policy not to fund requests from outside organizations which provide social services or services which are county-wide in scope.” Discussion then followed about whether the town’s new outside organization policy was in line with the language in the town’s financial policy. The current town board unanimously approved a new policy [attached below] regarding funding outside organizations during their May 16, 2016 meeting. It was during this discussion of funding outside organizations at the retreat when Commissioner Boone asked, “What about crimestoppers?” I searched the town’s budget and was unable to find any line item for anything labeled “crimestoppers” so I sent an email to the town asking for more information.

External agency funding

The town’s finance director told me the town issued $1,000 to NMCS in FY ‘17 paid from the police contract services line item in the budget. Ok, so now I at least knew where in the budget to look. Upon review, the “contract services” budget line item in the police budget (see p. 63/162 here) totaled approx. $584,741 in FY 16/17 – so slightly more than the $1,000 that was paid to NMCS. This amount is not broken up into individual line items totaling $584,741, however, which is just an easy way for government to disguise its spending from taxpayers. Knowing the town board had approved a new policy regarding funding outside organizations in May 2016, I was curious when this $1,000 payment was issued since NMCS was not one of the external agencies that made a public request to the town board during the FY 16/17 pre-budget work sessions to the best of my knowledge.

The town’s finance director further advised the FY ‘17 payment was issued on or about August 5, 2016 – well after the board approved their new policy in May 2016 – and the payor was the Town of Huntersville, not the Huntersville Police Dept. The town also made a similar $1,000 payment to NMCS in FY ‘16. I do not know how long Huntersville has been issuing payments to NMCS, but I do know the payment issued at least for FY ‘17 should have been governed by the town’s new external agency funding policy. Did the town comply with its own policy when it issued $1,000 to NMCS in August 2016? Did NMCS submit a written application for this $1,000 grant? What “public purpose” or “vital service” does NMCS provide and is this $1,000 grant serving to primarily benefit the residents of Huntersville? Has the town ever audited NMCS to ensure grant funds were being used for the “public purpose” being provided by NMCS? And are there other external agencies bypassing the town board and receiving funding directly from town departments?

I decided to reach out directly to NMCS in an attempt to answer some of these questions. There is no email or phone number listed on their website, so I sent a request for information using the contact form box on the Contact Us page. I received a response from David Rochester, currently listed at the NMCS website as their Vice Chairman, on Feb. 3 and responded the same day by asking for a list of NMCS tips leading to arrests in 2015, 2016, and 2017 since the last “case file” listed on their website was from 2014. I clarified my request on Feb. 4 for a list of NMCS tips leading to arrests in 2015, 2016, and 2017 where NMCS agreed to pay a reward, along with the total amount of each reward paid.

Two days later on Feb. 6 I received the following response from Mr. Rochester. “Generally, but not always, the North Meck Crime Stoppers Board of Directors votes regarding a few various types of Awards at each Monthly Meeting. Most of these are Confidential and Anonymous, as they involve C.I.’s in gangs or cartels, School Students, and Citizens afraid of revenge. Our website is currently in transition to a new designer, and will be enhanced, containing only Public information. Other Public information about us can be found in various press releases Re: “shreds”, Med-Drops”, “National Night out”, etc. where we volunteer our labor. Thank you for your interest. As a 501(c)3 we are able to accept tax deductible donations if you are inclined to contribute.”

I followed up this non-response with another inquiry asking whether NMCS was willing to provide me the requested information without disclosing the identity of the recipients – a fair request I thought given that NMCS already provided public information about at least one reward recipient under the “Case Files” section of the website. And about their website, the only other “case file” with information about a tip leading to an arrest, the “Jan. 13th incident at Birkdale,” appears to have been on the site since at least November 2013 according to internet archives so it’s impossible to even determine what year this “Jan. 13th” tip refers to. One thing is obvious, NMCS clearly isn’t using any taxpayer money to pay for anyone to regularly update their website.

When NMCS finally gets around to updating their website, might I recommend they also revise the following language at the bottom of their home page. “North Mecklenburg Crime Stoppers is managed by an all-volunteer board and is supported entirely by charitable donations.” [emphasis mine] Taking money from taxpayers could possibly be considered forced charitable donations, but it is the last thing I would ever consider charitable.

On Feb. 7, I received an interesting response from Mr. Rochester who asked, “What Law Enforcement Agency do you work for and why do you want our anonymous information.” For the record, I do not work for any law enforcement agency. I informed Mr. Rochester of this fact on Feb. 7 and then asked when we could speak over the phone. I did not receive a response to this email.

On Feb. 12, I sent another email to Mr. Rochester asking which municipalities besides Huntersville contribute financially to NMCS and how much each contributes respectively. He responded the same day, “Last year we received financing from all the Law enforcement Agencies in our territory: Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, and Davidson College Police.” He declined to provide me the funding information for the other municipalities so I sent them requests directly. Davidson provided NMCS $1,000 in June 2016, but said they had not budgeted any funds for FY ’17. Cornelius provided NMCS $2,000 in FY ’16, but I was told this was because they didn’t receive an invoice from them for FY ’15, and they would likely contribute another $1,000 in FY ’17. Chief Sigler of the Davidson Campus Police advised that the University had declined to release information about NMCS funding levels in response to my request.

I emailed Mr. Rochester again on Feb. 21 to ask if anyone at NMCS would be interested in answering any questions for a piece I was writing; he responded the same day and said, “I’ll ask them.” I have never heard anything further from Mr. Rochester or anyone at NMCS and I still have no idea how many, if any, NMCS tips lead to arrests in 2015, 2016, and 2017 and whether NMCS agreed to pay a reward, along with the total amount of each reward paid, for said tips.

So, who cares if the town gives a mere $1,000 of taxpayer money every year to a group with crime stoppers in the title, right? I mean if crime is being stopped in North Mecklenburg for just $1,000 a year, that’s only like three cents a year when you spread it over every taxpayer in Huntersville so why waste time writing all these words about such a small amount of money? (Hint: google concentrated benefits/dispersed costs)

For one thing, because it’s just another real world example of one of my favorite quotes – the easiest thing in the world is spending other people’s money. But, more importantly, because no other local media outlet reporting on Huntersville (particularly not any of the experienced, professional, legitimate type news outlets in the Lake Norman region) would ever waste this much ink on a single $1,000 appropriation out of an operating budget of over $30 million. Well this is how you wind up with an operating budget of over $30 million – $1,000 at a time.

I welcome a response from anyone affiliated with, or anyone supportive of, NMCS to justify why Huntersville taxpayers should continue to fund this organization. I also welcome any comments from current or former elected officials in Huntersville explaining why they have allowed money to be taken from Huntersville residents for years to fund NMCS, how NMCS has benefited Huntersville residents, and whether they intend to allow money to continue to be taken from Huntersville taxpayers for the benefit of NMCS. It is an election year after all.