Crime Stoppers trying to get message out

With a “Bail or Jail” fundraiser coming up May 7-8 in conjunction with the annual Chamber of Commerce trade show, the Fort Frances branch of Crime Stoppers is trying to raise public awareness of the role the program plays here.
“We want people to be aware of crime on the community, and to know they can help stop it,” said Laurie Mauro, who chairs the Fort Frances chapter of Northwestern Ontario Crime Stoppers.
“Crime Stoppers is extremely important,” she added. “There’s an awful lot of people who we wouldn’t have put in jail if the citizens didn’t have a way to do it anonymously.”
“There’s this concept that people have when they see a crime that someone else will see it and do something about it,” noted Fort Frances OPP Cst. Caroline Spencer, a community services officer and Crime Stoppers liaison. “They don’t want to get involved—and especially don’t want to have to go to court.
“Crime Stoppers is a hassle-free way to get involved and help solve crimes in the community,” she added. “You can’t put a price on that. That information the community can give us is invaluable.”
“Crime Stoppers is very strict about anonymity,” noted Mauro, adding if the receptionist answering the phone or checking the recorded tips at the Crime Stoppers office in Kenora recognizes the voice of the tipster, they don’t accept the tip but instead forward the person onto the police.
“I think we’d get a whole lot more tips if people realized that,” she said.
The tip process works like this: A person witnesses or hears of a crime and calls 1-800-222-TIPS (1-800-222-8477) to report it. Neither their name, birth date, phone number, address, or any other information is recorded.
But they do receive a code number, which they can refer to when calling Crime Stoppers back in the future to check on the progress into the investigation of the crime they reported.
Up to $2,000 in cash is paid to tips leading to arrests, recovery of stolen property, or the seizure of illicit drugs. In some cases, a reward may be offered even if an arrest is not made.
An anonymous pickup will be arranged for this money to be claimed.
“A lot of people who call don’t want a code, they don’t want a reward,” noted Mauro, adding just helping the police is a reward in itself.
Cst. Spencer said this was the case in some tips that came in on elk killings that happened last year in the west end of the district. The respondents didn’t want rewards—they just wanted to see justice without having to go to court to testify themselves.
Cst. Spencer added Fort Frances doesn’t have public crime prevention initiatives like “Neighbourhood Watch” and even the “Block Parent” program here any more.
“We need Crime Stoppers as an avenue to get the community’s input when it comes to dealing with crime,” she stressed.
Since its inception in 1987, Northwestern Ontario Crime Stoppers has received 15,000 tips, resulting in 1,500 arrests, $100,000 paid out in rewards, and the recovery or seizure of $5 million in drugs and property.
But as with any organization, Crime Stoppers needs money to operate—and the only way it can do that is through donations and fundraisers like the popular “Great Rubber Duckie Race,” law enforcement all-star hockey games, or the upcoming golf tournament June 8.
In the case of Crime Stoppers, any funds raised are used to pay the rent for an office in Kenora and for the one employee who works there, as well as reward money for tipsters.
And that’s where the “Bail or Jail” event next month comes in.
Crime Stoppers mailed out “summons” to a list of local residents. Those “suummoned” will have to appear in at a mock trial between 5-8 p.m. on Friday, May 7, or 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, May 8 in the auditorium of the Memorial Sports Centre.
If they have raised their “bail” (actually, funds in support of the local Crime Stoppers), their “charges” (which Cst. Spencer promises will be “silly” in nature) will be dismissed and they’ll be free to go. If not, they’ll be “jailed” at the trade show for a short period of time, during which time, they’ll make a plea to the public to raise their “bail” for them.
“We want it to be fun. Nobody will be grabbed off the trade show floor,” stressed Mauro. “We don’t want any sour feelings.
“We’d like to see it become an annual event,” she added, noting the Dryden branch of Crime Stoppers has had great success with its “Bail or Jail” fundraiser over the past several years.
“It has to be held in conjunction with something, in this case the trade show,” said Mauro. “The Chamber of Commerce is great; they’re willing to help in any way, shape, or form.”
Those who have not been contacted by Crime Stoppers, but would like to participate in the “Bail or Jail” fundraiser, can contact Russ Ling at 274-2444.
Mauro said the local Crime Stoppers board, which currently consists of 12 members, is always looking for new individuals to join.
“There’s a great sense of knowing you’re doing something good for your community,” she remarked.
“It’s actually quite fun,” said Cst. Spencer.
The board meets the third Friday of each month at 8 a.m. at the Civic Centre. When they’re planning special events, such as the “Bail or Jail,” the meetings are a little more frequent, noted Mauro.
Northwestern Ontario Crime Stoppers began in 1987, starting with a board in Kenora but now is comprised of 10 boards with about 110 board members.
The program reaches 62 communities and ties in 32 telephone exchanges. It is a non-profit, community-oriented program involving the co-operative efforts of the police, community, and the media.
Greg MacAleese, a Canadian-born police detective, created the first Crime Stoppers program in 1976 in Albuquerque, N.M. in response to that city having the highest per capita crime rate in the U.S. in the mid-1970s.