MARINETTE - Area law enforcement agencies have long had compatible working relationships. That bond has gotten stronger with the recent addition of Menominee County to the Crime Stoppers organization.

The non-profit association will now be called Crime Stoppers of Marinette County, Inc., serving Marinette County and Menominee County, Mich.

Gary Temple Sr., a former president of the 19-member board comprised of citizen volunteers, explained how the change came about.

"I got a call from a businessman from Menominee asking if Menominee businesses could be involved in Crime Stoppers," he said. "We found out there was no Crime Stoppers in the U.P. We went to the state association and found out there are no boundaries when it comes to Crime Stoppers."

Law enforcement officials talked about the change Tuesday night at a Crime Stoppers board meeting in Marinette.

"I know Marinette County has had great success," Menominee County Sheriff Kenny Marks said. "That was the indication that we needed to move forward and do something similar."

Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve said "there's strength in numbers" and it's a positive step for both counties.

"With Menominee County coming on, it really tells their citizens over there and the business community and any would-be donors, that they're vested into this now," he said. "We've got more people and we're going to serve more people. I think it can only be a win."

Menominee Police Chief Brett Botbyl said his department appreciates the opportunity.

"I think this is very positive for Menominee County and I thank Marinette County for inviting us to be on board, because they've definitely done all the leg work," he said. "This is very easy for us. We're just hopping on a train that's already moving."

And that train has been generating speed since 1991 when Crime Stoppers formed in Marinette County. Under the guidance of now-retired Rick Berlin, the organization was an effective tool for gathering tips about crime. Those tips were generated through a toll-free number (1-800-427-5857).

With the advent of smart phones and social media, the new leaders of Crime Stoppers have brought new methods of collecting information to the program.

Det. Dan Miller of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department is the coordinator and he is assisted by deputies Fred Popp and Gary Temple Jr. The trio attended a state conference last year and brought back a host of new ideas.

One of the new concepts is a web-based software program called TipSoft that allows citizens to call, text or go online to give information.

"That took off like wildfire," Miller said of the texting feature. "That's probably 80 percent of our tips. What's nice is we can respond back to that person and ask them for more information. Before, with an answering machine, we were not able to respond."

Miller explained a text tip is sent to a Texas-based software company and within seconds an e-mail is sent to the three coordinators, plus Amy Hansen of the Marinette Police Department, who is also the school liaison officer. Those officers field the tip and decide what jurisdiction it should be forwarded to.

Botbyl said a text tip helped solve a case of a student who made a bomb threat late last school year. Although, Menominee County wasn't officially involved with Crime Stoppers, the board decided to pay the reward money to the tipster.

"We thought that was important enough and that really sealed the deal with Menominee County coming on board," Miller said.

Both Miller and Popp travel to every school in Marinette County and this year they will visit every Menominee County school as well. They explain to the students what Crime Stoppers is all about, including a Quick $50 Cash program that enables students to get $50 for information on any drugs or alcohol on the premises or $25 for information on any other illegal activity on school premises.

Miller said they have found that nearly all students have cellphones and texting is easily the No. 1 choice of communication among the children.

"I think there's a lot more communication with the schools," Popp said. "That's the big thing. We get a good reception from kids when we put on the talks. We got tips from every school in our jurisdiction last year."

The officers plan to hit the road Sept. 9-12.

Miller said that while Marinette County is the lead organization, all departments work together.

"Every agency tries to get a member to our meetings," he said.

The Crime Stoppers board is made up of 19 citizen volunteers, with law enforcement personnel providing expertise and guidance.

Temple Sr. said donations, from both businesses and citizens, are essential in helping the program survive. Stephenson National Bank and Trust paid the $4,419 bill for the TipSoft software, while Farmers & Merchants Band and Trust handled expenses for the 24/7 answering service.

Temple Sr., who has been on the board for 12 years, said these are exciting times.

"It's been a great thrill," he said. "We're seeing the fruits of our labor coming through right now."

The group is currently working with Romy Blystone in developing a new website. Temple Sr. said it will be one of the best websites of its kind and will provide all kinds of information, including a place to offer tips on cold cases.

"One of my goals is to solve some cold cases," he said. "To me, that would be one of the greatest feathers in our cap."

Board officers are: President Tom Walk, vice president Chuck Gardon, treasurer Paulette Collins and secretary Fae Olson.