Crime-stoppers Greater New Orleans
Concerned about crime in New Orleans? Partnering with this nonprofit will make you part of the solution.
Darlene Cusanza, president and CEO of Crimestoppers Greater New Orleans with Officer Juan Barnes of the NOPD, who serves as the law enforcement liaison to Crimestoppers.
hat TV newscast story about a violent crime would be complete without the disclaimer, “If you have any information about this crime, please call the Crimestoppers tip line at 822-1111,” Crimestoppers’ billboards and bus ads can be seen around the city, and the organization’s President and CEO, Darlene Cusanza, is a regular guest on the morning news shows discussing recent crime trends or providing safety tips to help keep citizens in and around New Orleans safe.
Most people think that Crimestoppers is run by law enforcement, but this nonprofit organization is not officially part of any one police department. Instead it is powered by civilians and volunteers whose primary purpose is to work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies to capture criminals and find much-needed closure for victims’ families.
When Cusanza joined the team 22 years ago, the organization was much smaller than it is today and was set up to primarily cover Greater New Orleans. Volunteers came from the Chamber of Commerce.
The organization has since grown to include three full-time and one part-time employee, as well as a liaison officer from the New Orleans Police Department, and the nonprofit has taken on a more regional role over the years, covering a nine-parish area.
“When I first came onboard, the organization was run as a committee of the Chamber. As the potential grew for the organization, they looked for an executive director to grow the program. The focus of the program then was to operate a crime tip hotline for citizens to report anonymously and followed a national Crimestoppers model,” Cusanza said. “It has been my focus to move from only being reactive to crimes which have been committed, to being more proactive in the prevention of planned acts of violence. A more holistic approach has been our goal, and I feel it has increased the organization’s footprint and value to the community.
“Today we not only provide resources to crime victims and their families, but we also educate youth about prevention and advocacy, as well as engage neighborhood and community organizations in crime prevention and community policing,” Cusanza added. “Through these efforts, we have also become more effective in working with victims’ families to help them navigate the criminal justice arena when seeking answers and justice.”
LEFT: A mix of JPSO, NOPD and U.S. Marshals that work daily, hand in hand with Crimestoppers to fight crime in the city. RIGHT: “It has been my focus to move from only being reactive to crimes which have been committed, to being more proactive in the prevention of planned acts of violence,” says CEO Darlene Cusanza, of the organization’s move toward educating youth and engaging neighborhood and community organizations in crime prevention and policing.
So how exactly does Crimestoppers work? A caller simply dials the 24/7 tip hotline and is connected to the command desk; an operator takes down the tip information about whatever crime is being reported. Most importantly, the entire call is anonymous: no identifying information is asked for or provided, such as name, phone number or address. After the tip is given, the operator assigns the caller a code number for identification. The caller has to remember the number and give it to Crimestoppers if they call back to check on the status of the tip they provided. Crimestoppers has no way of contacting the person who left the tip. All information that is called in to the organization is passed on to the appropriate law enforcement agency, to act on accordingly and to report any updates back to Crimestoppers, such as whether it helped solve or prevent a crime. If the tip was useful in solving the crime, a cash reward is awarded.
Crimestoppers pays a reward of up to $2,500 on all felony crimes committed in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Plaquemines and Washington parishes. Other reward money is sometimes added to Crimestoppers rewards by individuals.
“Even though Crimestoppers is primarily known for our rewards for anonymous tips, we are much more than just a hotline: we are a sounding board for victims’ families in their time of desperate need,” Cusanza said. “Many times, we are the only ones there for these families, and their pain is truly immense. Our focus and work with community partners and neighborhood groups also provides a network of additional ‘eyes and ears’ on the street for law enforcement to tap into, and allows citizens to become better educated to not become victims of a crime. Bringing the civic and neighborhood groups together with law enforcement helps bridge trust and build relationships, creating a safer community for everyone.”
Having been a victim of a crime herself shortly after going to work for Crimestoppers Greater New Orleans, Cusanza has a deep understanding of what a crime victim is going through, and a thirst for justice.
“Being a victim of an armed robbery taught me great empathy for victims’ families and gave me a greater understanding of the process,” she said. “I know what it feels like to be on the other side and go through court, and I know the system can work and that you can rely on the community for information on a crime. I also know what it means to have someone say, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you,’ and ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ That is what Crimestoppers does—we let victims know that they have not been forgotten about and that we are here to help.”
Because Crimestoppers is a nonprofit organization, it relies on fundraisers and individual and corporate memberships to fund the various community efforts and programs. The organization has two main fundraisers each year — an awards luncheon it has hosted for 32 years and a Blues Night that it has hosted since 2013.
“Our luncheon is a time where we say thank you to law enforcement, recognize community leaders as well as honor fallen heroes — those officers that lost their lives in the line of duty over the past year. This year we are expecting just under 700 people to attend,” Cusanza said. “Blues Night was initiated by some local musicians who wanted to take a stand against violence. They approached me about doing a fundraiser as a way of uniting together for a common cause. Violence is a part of life, but they did not want it to take away the way we live — we can still enjoy food and music.”
The organization has developed and oversees several community outreach programs. The Crimestoppers Safe School Hotline was set up as a way for middle- and high-school students in the nine-parish service area to have a safe environment for studying and learning by making their school campuses safer. The main goal of the hotline is to solve and prevent serious crimes by empowering students with a safe and anonymous way to report information about crimes on campus. Crimestoppers even makes presentations in schools, explains the process and fields questions from students. In a further effort to empower teenagers, the organization’s Teen Ambassadors Against Crime (TAAC) Leadership Program strives to help students gain a better understanding of the criminal justice arena, including the role that students can and do play in community safety.
Another way the group reaches out to the community is through its yearly Night Out Against Crime, held each October as a way to bring citizens together in a fun environment to meet their neighbors and learn about crime prevention. This past October, the organization hosted more than 2,500 attendees at its community party at the Bonnabel Boat Launch.
Initiated this year by Crimestoppers, the Project Good Samaritan program encompasses a variety of local clergy partners who meet regularly to discuss the violence in the community and what tools can be employed to combat the problems.
“Crime affects people in all walks of life, and we work with all the neighborhoods in our nine-parish coverage area,” Cusanza said. “You don’t have to ask for our services, they are there for you. There is a manpower shortage in law enforcement, and it is imperative that citizens help to gather intelligence on the streets to stop and solve crimes. This is important for businesses to prosper and children to be safe — think of it as bread, water and public safety.
“I am very proud of the work that Crimestoppers has provided for the community and the dedication of our board members. Everyone comes to the table for the right reasons, wanting to make the community safer for everyone. We respect the work and public service that law enforcement provides and are honored to be a partner in this most important endeavor. This team is invincible, and we invite everyone to come along with us on this journey.”
A Good Match
FOR COMPANIES WHO…
Are concerned about local crime and interested in showing support for victims. Opportunities for individuals and groups exist in community outreach, helping with crime walks and school educational programs.
Since Crimestoppers Greater New Orleans’ Start in 1981:
felony crimes it has helped solve
paid out in rewards
tips processed for investigation
arrests, as of 2/1/17
rewards paid totaling approximately $90,000
In 2016 Crimestoppers made more than:
families provided with the opportunity to have their loved ones’ cases aired on “Crimestoppers Most Wanted” radio spots
teen leaders graduated,
schools represented in its TAAC Leadership Program
Crimestoppers Greater New Orleans
Founded 1981 by the late Mr. James Coleman Sr. (1915-2007)
Mission Crimestoppers is a nonprofit organization whose primary goal is to provide citizens with a way to assist law enforcement to apprehend criminals and to make the community a safer place to live.
Tip Hotline (504) 822-1111 or 877-903-STOP
Annual Budget $400,000 Direct Program Services
Ongoing Partnerships/Event Sponsors Postlethwaite & Netterville, Vinson Guard Service Inc., First NBC, Entergy New Orleans, Freeport McMoRan Foundation, Louise H. Moffett Family Foundation, Robert E. Zetzmann Family Foundation, The Catholic Foundation, The Engraving Company, The Helis Foundation, Whitney Bank and more.
A complete listing of partnerships can be found on the organization’s website.
Current Needs The Crimestoppers office operates with a small staff and always needs volunteers to work with its programs, as well as funding to bring initiatives to reality. Also, it needs additional manpower to assist with community outreach, fundraisers, crime walks and educational programs.
Organization Board of Trustees, Board of Directors and Executive Board
For More Information
President and CEO