January is National Crime Stoppers Month and central Vancouver Island Crime Stoppers representatives are working to raise public awareness about the program and how its operations are ever-changing.
Crime Stoppers started in 1976 in the U.S. during the investigation into the shooting death of gas station clerk Michael Carmen in Albuquerque, N.M. After two weeks with no leads in the case, detective Greg MacAleese had a re-enactment of the crime broadcast on a local TV station and offered a $1,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest of Carmen’s killer. Within 72 hours a man telephoned to identify a vehicle he’d seen leaving the crime scene, but said he hadn’t called earlier because he was afraid to get involved.
Forty seven years on, Crime Stoppers remains a volunteer-run organization that continues to offer rewards for anonymous tips that lead to convictions, while protecting the identities of tipsters who provide the information. The organization’s top priority is to protect tipsters’ identities while being a resource, independent from police departments, that police can turn to for information that can further the progress of investigations.
“Crime Stoppers is a stand-alone entity. It’s not the police,” said reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson and Central Vancouver Island Crime Stoppers coordinator. “The majority of the tips now are submitted online from the safety of a laptop or a cell phone in somebody’s bedroom. Very few tips are actually phoned in. Seventy-five per cent of tips are submitted online, 25 per cent are by telephone.”
He said because of how easily information can be shared online, Central Vancouver Island Crime Stoppers has been restructured over the past two years to better ensure the safety of tipsters, who sometimes share so much detail there is concern they could inadvertently put themselves at risk.
“We’re going to start putting the [Crime Stoppers] phone number back out there and letting people know the program is still vibrant. We just had to go through a restructuring for the safety of everybody involved to ensure the program continues and we have stronger standards to carry us through the next five years,” O’Brien said.
Since its inception in Nanaimo in 1990, Central Vancouver Island Crime Stoppers – formerly known as Nanaimo and District Crime Stoppers – has received 11,696 tips, some of which contained information that led to 550 arrests and 496 rewards paid out. Information from tipsters also led to more than $9.2 million in drugs seized and helped recover property valued at nearly $1.5 million.
The renaming of the organization to Central Vancouver Island Crime Stoppers reflects a wider coverage area that now extends from Ahousaht on the west coast of the Island, to the east coast of the Island from Bowser to Mill Bay, and the Gulf Islands.
Crime Stoppers raises money through fundraisers which support initiatives that benefit the communities the organization serves. In 2022, $3,400 was given to Port Alberni Community Policing to provide radios for its volunteers, and the RCMP vulnerable persons unit was given $3,000 for cell phones and trackers for victims fleeing domestic violence. As well, $4,800 was donated to Nanaimo RCMP’s mental health crisis team to modify a police vehicle, known as Car 54, to install a back seat divider so that a family member or mental health nurse can safely accompany a person being transported who is suffering a mental health crisis.
Crime Stoppers also committed $7,200 to provide an extra day of security each week for Victoria Crescent in downtown Nanaimo.
“We’re paying for that for the next six months and we’re going to reevaluate it at the end of the six months. That is making a significant difference because they had a gap in delivery,” O’Brien said.
Along with restructuring, the organization is currently undergoing a revival. O’Brien said there will be a greater focus on accepting tips online with a new website.
“We think the Crime Stoppers program is in good hands,” O’Brien said. “Stewardship’s with the same people who volunteer in the community … who are committed to the success of the program and giving back to the community. We think it’s more in line with the expectations of the courts and the police and it’s a viable entity that the police can use to help solve crimes.”
To contact Crime Stoppers or learn more about the organization, call 1-800-222-8477 or visit http://nanaimocrimestoppers.com.
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