NOT A SNITCH LINE
By Cal Millar
Crime Stoppers is extremely effective at fighting crime, but most people, including many police officers, have no idea how the program operates. There is a general consensus that Crime Stoppers is a snitch line operated by police for gutter dwellers to squeal on other street lizards, but that is completely false.
The newly-published 304-page book – What is Crime Stoppers – dispels the misconceptions, confusion and misunderstanding that people have of the crime-solving concept that came into existence 38 years ago.
By Cal Millar
by Cal Miller
Crime Stoppers is extremely effective at fighting crime, but most people, including many police officers, have no idea how the program operates.
There is a general consensus that Crime Stoppers is a snitch line operated by police for gutter dwellers to squeal on other street lizards, but that is completely false.
The newly-published 304-page book –
My book describes Crime Stoppers as a world-wide network of independent charitable organizations set up in local communities to take anonymous tips on unsolved crime. Programs are managed by volunteer boards and operate arms length from the police.
The key to success is an absolute guarantee of anonymity for anyone providing tips on unsolved crime. There has never been a case where the name of a caller was revealed.
Crime Stoppers was initially established to solve the July 1976 slaying of a 19-year-old university student, Michael Carman, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Following a successful conclusion it developed into a partnership between police, media and the community to solve crime. Today, 1,700 Crime Stoppers operate in cities on six continents. They not only take anonymous tips on cold cases but have become multi-faceted organizations working to improve the safety and security of communities.
Detective Greg MacAleese, one of the homicide investigators probing the Carman killing, came up with the idea of broadcasting a re-enactment of the shooting death which occurred during the gas bar robbery and having the local television station appeal for witnesses to come forward. It is a common place approach these days, but in 1976 it was a novel idea and also an attempt to break a sense of fear and apathy in this southwestern U.S. community, with the dubious distinction of being one of the most crime ridden cities in the country. To encourage callers, the detective also promised anonymity and a cash reward for information leading to an arrest.
MacAleese, who was born in Canada and worked as a reporter for the Associated Press before becoming a police officer, knew a crime re-enactment would have a dramatic appeal in Albuquerque, but had no inkling that Crime Stoppers would become an international crime fighting organization.
According to the book, the idea of simply taking tips to solve cold cases has been superseded by technological advances, direction from the court, promotional opportunities provided by various media outlets and public demands for Crime Stoppers to take a more proactive role to enhance security. The book also points out that Crime Stoppers remains a community-based program that pays cash for tips from anonymous callers, but says local programs have adopted a variety of other initiatives to increase services and make neighborhoods safer. They include projects to protect students and staff in schools, campaigns against illegal dumping of hazardous chemicals and dangerous waste, initiatives to combat drinking and driving and efforts to safeguard wildlife and natural resources.
The majority of calls relate to drugs, but tips to Crime Stoppers programs have solved thousands of homicides, assaults, arsons, robberies, break-ins and numerous other crimes. A crime is solved every 14 minutes by Crime Stoppers and accumulative statistics show tips to the program have helped solve more than two million crimes. Through the years there have been at least one million arrests and almost $10 billion in stolen property and narcotics has been recovered as a result of tips to the program.
Retired Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas O’Grady is quoted in the book as ranking Crime Stoppers, DNA and fingerprinting as the three top innovations in modern day policing.
Robert Lunney, who headed police operations in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Peel Region before retiring, said the leader of any police agency would be guilty of mismanagement if Crime Stoppers wasn’t included in the arsenal of weapons used to combat crime.
The book outlines the intelligence network that has developed through Crime Stoppers with national police agencies in various countries, including the RCMP, FBI, Scotland Yard, U.S. Marshal Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime.
In addition, through the Internet and other communication advances, Crime Stoppers can make global appeals for information. In recent years, Crime Stoppers in the United Kingdom requested assistance from programs in other countries to solicit information regarding the 2007 disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann while vacationing with her parents in Portugal. The renewed appeal led to some promising leads and Scotland Yard investigators are currently focusing efforts on eight “persons of interest” who were in the vicinity when the child vanished.
Although Crime Stoppers programs in North America closely follow the concept designed by MacAleese, the book details how the scheme operates in other countries and highlights some cases that law enforcement agencies hope to solve through tips. In the Netherlands, the Crime Stoppers program – known as “M” – doesn’t pay rewards since it’s considered a civic duty to tell authorities what a person may know about a crime. However, the anonymity aspect is vital since it allows people to fulfill their responsibility without the requirement of testifying in court.
Crime Stoppers in South Africa also doesn’t compensate tipsters with cash, but police or private organizations will post rewards for serious offences, including the slaying of officers. In those situations, however, the individuals must voluntarily reveal their identity to collect the money.
There are actually two parallel Crime Stoppers programs operating in South Africa; a tip line called Crime Stop operated by the South African Police Service takes anonymous calls over the telephone and Crime Line, a privately operated program, receives information via text and online messaging. The book says Crime Stoppers was implemented in South Africa in the early 1990s and efforts are underway to introduce the program to Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana and Namibia.
South Africa is faced with the same crime concerns that confront communities in Canada such as murder, drug trafficking, muggings, robberies and criminal activity targeting automatic teller machines. The Crime Stoppers program recently teamed up with the country’s National Parks Service to combat the slaughter of rhinos, one of the most endangered species in the world. Crime Stoppers kicked off a campaign against poachers who had killed around 600 rhinos at South Africa’s largest animal preserve to harvest the horns for traditional Chinese doctors. They grind them into “medicine” for their wealthiest patients in countries around the world.
The book details the growth of Crime Stoppers through the Caribbean and into Central America while highlighting some of the crimes in that area which police are anxious to solve, including the May 4, 2014 slaying of Dana Seetahal. The 58-year-old prosecutor and former senator was ambushed by gunmen while driving to her home in Trinidad. She was shot at least five times and senior police have described the slaying as a well-planned and coordinated hit.
Homicide investigators have also appealed through Crime Stoppers to help identify the individuals who killed Bert Clarke, a 59-year-old security guard, during a November 27, 2013 robbery of a van delivering cash to a bank in Tobago. Rewards of $1 million in Trinidadian currency have been made available to help solve these slayings.
Although most Crime Stoppers programs in Canada and the United States cap reward amounts between $1,000 and $2,000, the book reveals that Crime Stoppers Australia is offering $1 million each to find the killers responsible for 13 homicide incidents – known as the Child Murder Cases – which over a 34 year period claimed the lives of 18 individuals, mostly young people.
Since Calgary set up the first Crime Stoppers program in Canada in 1982, the growth and success across the country has been phenomenal. The book indicates that 100 Crime Stoppers units now operate in Canada and defines Regina Crime Stoppers as a typical program. Its volunteer board regularly hosts events to raise funds or promote the tip line number to the community.
Also highlighted are two cases that Regina residents want to see solved – the July 5, 2004 abduction of five-year-old Tamra Jewel Keepness and the savage August 6, 2010 slaying of a couple and their three-old-son who came to Canada to escape ethnic violence that has raged in their native Burma for decades.
The book, available from Amazon.com, describes Crime Stoppers initiatives undertaken in various cities, including Hamilton, Windsor, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and programs throughout the Maritimes. It also highlights a campaign by the Canadian Crime Stoppers Association to combat human trafficking, which has become a major concern in communities across the country.
Cal Millar retired 10 years ago after a lengthy career as a Toronto Star general assignment reporter concentrating on crime and policing issues. He is a founding member of Toronto Crime Stoppers, a director with Crime Stoppers International and is on the board of Crime Stoppers in Halton Region.
Millar has written four other books.
Married with two adult children and a grandson, Millar resides with his wife in Burlington.