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The Secret Behind Secret Witness

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When Secret Witness phones ring, volunteers jump into action. Getting tips from anonymous witnesses could mean the difference between a cold case and a solved case.

Many witnesses won't report crimes because they don't want to release their personal information. Secret Witness lets them give their tips anonymously, only identifying them through code numbers on the top of the report to police.

This program has helped solve thousands of cases since the local Secret Witness branch formed in response to a crime more than 30 years ago.

In 1977, six-year-old Lisa Bonham was abducted and killed, shocking the then-small community in Reno. A Secret Witness tip helped put her killer behind bars.

And when Brianna Denison was taken from a home near the University of Nevada campus in 2008, a Secret Witness tip helped law enforcement find and convict James Biela of her murder.

"We have a long list of crimes that we've helped solve, including some major high-profile crimes," Secret Witness board member Brock Richter said. "And who knows, if we weren't around, maybe those wouldn't have been solved."

Secret Witness' Reno branch averages 250 calls to its hotline every month. But as technology has evolved, a telephone hotline just doesn't cut it anymore. The service has had to expand to allow tips on the web and through texting.

Those upgrades are putting a strain on their budget. Secret Witness is a non-profit organization. Its members don't get paid, and it gets no taxpayer money. It runs solely on grants and donations, and as the economy has weakened, those donations have started to dry up.

"We're still out there fundraising, because we have some new challenges," Richter said. "Technology is becoming a bigger factor in what we do, such as the texting program, and technology is not free."

Secret Witness often offers rewards for tips about crimes as well, and with the economic downturn, more people have actually started accepting those rewards.

Secret Witness is asking for donations to continue its community service. To donate, click here.

 
Written by Arianna Bennett
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