GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Silent Observer and Grand Rapids police on Wednesday urged community members to step up and provide tips amid a surge in crime, saying such tips have already helped solve two homicides this year.
“Police can’t do it alone. The community’s help is vital as we fight this battle,” Silent Observer Executive Director Chris Cameron said. “Silent Observer takes away the fear of speaking up.”
Chief Eric Winstrom said the Grand Rapids Police Department is seeing an uptick in calls for service this year over last year. There have been 16 homicides within the city limits so far in 2022. Information compiled by News 8 shows the city recorded a total of 17 homicides in all of 2021.
“Your neighbors deserve a safe city to live in. The families of crime victims deserve justice,” Winstrom said. “With Silent Observer’s ability to be anonymous when you call them and then the offer of cash rewards, there’s really no reason not to utilize this invaluable service.”
The region has also seen a surge in car thefts by teens, some of whom have been found armed, the chief said.
“We cannot be everywhere,” Winstrom said. “We’re stretched thin. We still have to answer 911 calls on a daily basis, so we can’t spend our time out and searching for these stolen Kias and stolen Hyundais.”
Cameron said even Silent Observer staffers don’t know who calls and that the organization scrubs any personal information from tips before they go to police.
“State law protects our records and our tips, so no one will ever know who contacted us,” she said.
Cameron said tips have helped solve the May 24 killing of 24-year-old Naquie Mitz and the July 4 killing of 16-year-old Ja’Juan Webb. In both of those cases, Silent Observer paid out rewards of $3,200 — its new standard payout for tips leading to a homicide being solved. She added it’s unusual for Silent Observer to aid police in a homicide investigation — it hadn’t happened in years before happening twice in about six weeks this year.
More often, tips are related to other types of crimes. Cameron said that this year, they helped investigators find the ATV driver who drove dangerously close to a GRPD cruiser, a woman wanted in a deadly hit-and-run and a 16-year-old who had an assault weapon who had threatened to harm students at school. Other information led to suspects in the related burglaries of a Cedar Springs-area car dealership and Muskegon-area marijuana dispensary.
“I can’t stress enough how valuable these tips coming in this year have been,” Cameron said, going on to say there aren’t necessarily more tips but that they have been very detailed, often with videos and photos.
“I think this shows that the community is fed up and they want to get involved and try to stop this violence and try to help bring these criminals to justice,” she said.
The mother and grandmother of Deon Floyd, who was killed in October 2020 and whose case remains unsolved, called on anyone who knows anything to come forward.
“Speak out. I know certain people go by street code (and) it’s called snitching,” Floyd’s mother Taneka McIntosh said. “No, it’s not. It’s called telling the truth.”
She said her son was innocent, had no enemies and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would have been 25 on Aug. 16. His family says he leaves behind two children: a son and an infant daughter, who he didn’t get the chance to meet before he died.
“It’s been harder and harder every day,” she said, becoming too emotional to speak.
“Why him? Why him?” Floyd’s grandmother Carrie McIntosh wondered. “Please, please, if anybody knows anything out there, please give us come closure. Because this is what we go through every day of our lives: We wake up with it, we go to sleep with it.”
“…Please help us, please,” she said, crying. “This is from my heart: Please, would you all help us?”
Anyone with information on any crime can call Silent Observer at 616.774.2345 and leave a tip anonymously.
Cameron also said Crime Stoppers USA, an organization of Silent Observer-like programs, rolled out a new way to submit tips about any crime no matter what part of the country they are visiting. She says the program was originally piloted in Florida in the fall of 2020. After seeing success, it was launched nationally this past spring. She said dialing **TIPS (star star 8477) on a cellphone will connect tipsters to the closest program. Again, callers are anonymous. It’s still best to call the Silent Observer line at 616.774.2345 if you’re in West Michigan. She also reminded people that if they are in an emergency, they should still call 911.
She said that so far this year, tips to Silent Observer have helped solve about 40 cases and nearly $16,000 in donation-funded rewards have been paid out — normally, the average yearly payout is about $12,000.
Cameron said that since being created 50 years ago, the organization has helped solve 4,590 cases and paid out $685,000 in rewards.
Silent Observer usually gets about 2,000 tips per year.
—News 8’s Whitney Burney contributed to this report.