JUSTICE

Community programs that fight crime

DAVID TODD February 1 1988
JUSTICE

Community programs that fight crime

DAVID TODD February 1 1988

Community programs that fight crime

JUSTICE

To Albuquerque, N.M., police detective Greg MacAleese, the leads did not look promising. A young gas station attendant had been brutally murdered during a July, 1976, armed robbery, and few witnesses had stepped forward to provide clues. A month later, having exhausted all traditional channels of investigation, MacAleese, then 29, persuaded the city’s ABC TV affiliate to broadcast a re-enactment of the crime and offered a reward for any anonymous tip that would lead to an arrest. Although the dramatization, aired that September, was clumsy and unprofessional, someone came forward with a crucial tip within 24 hours of the broadcast, enabling police to arrest two men who were eventually convicted of the murder. Buoyed by that success, the Picton, Ont.-born MacAleese sought to apply his novel methods on a broader scale. The result was Crime Stoppers, a program that now works through local news media in about 750 communities around the world to offer cash rewards for information that helps police solve crimes.

On Jan. 4 MacAleese was in Belleville, Ont., to launch a new Crime Stoppers program there, one of 23 in Ontario and more than 50 in Canada. According to MacAleese, now the executive director of the Greater Dallas Crime Commission, a citizens’ anticrime group in Texas, Crime Stoppers depends on newspapers, radio and television outlets in each community to promote the program and on local corporate and private donations to fund the rewards. Said MacAleese: “The media’s involvement creates credibility and a sense of community involvement.” But the most important ingredient in the program’s success, he adds, is the willingness of local citizens to get involved by reporting to police any information they may have about a crime.

While some police officers initially viewed Crime Stoppers with skepticism, the results offer a persuasive argument in its favor. MacAleese estimates that the program helps solve one major crime in North America every 10 minutes. Since 1982 the Canadian programs have resulted in nearly 10,000 arrests, helped police recover more than $70 million in stolen property and illegal narcotics— and paid out nearly $1 million in rewards. Sgt. William Harkema, police

co-ordinator of the Greater Vancouver program, estimates that as many as one call in five leads to an arrest. “It is a definite asset to an investigator,” said Harkema. “It can solve a lot of crimes that would not have been solved any other time.” MacAleese designed Crime Stoppers to overcome the reluctance that many people feel about approaching the police. Callers giving information to Crime Stoppers do not have

to reveal their name, and, since most of them simply provide leads for investigators, they are not required to testify in court. And clearly, the rewards serve as an inducement. Officers assign the anonymous callers individual code numbers and ask them to phone periodically to check on the progress of the case. Rewards for information that leads to an arrest generally range from $50 to $1,000, depending on such factors as the severity of the crime, although some programs offer as much as $2,000. Each community program has a volunteer board of directors primarily responsible for raising the funds necessary to pay those rewards.

Local newspapers and radio stations routinely carry information that the Crime Stoppers program

provides on unsolved cases, and some television stations broadcast dramatizations of crimes. Toronto-based independent station CITY TV devotes an estimated $200,000 a year to the production of brief, videotaped crime reenactments that it airs twice a week. Amateur actors and police stand in for real-life participants in such crimes as purse-snatchings and sexual assaults.

The program’s popularity has

grown not only in North America but overseas as well. Communities in West Africa, Britain, the Netherlands and Australia, among others, have active programs. For his part, MacAleese says that he is pleased and surprised about the widespread support his efforts have generated. “I feel we have been on the cutting edge of a change in law enforcement,” he added. “Police departments have become more community-conscious. And Crime Stoppers has proven that when citizens know what we would like them to do, they will respond positively.” With police increasingly overmatched in a battle against rising crime rates, the program has proven to be an indispensable addition to their arsenal.

DAVID TODD