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What is Crime Stoppers?

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You’ve probably heard about Crime Stoppers Canada, but do you actually know how the program works, and how police use Crime Stoppers tips to help them in their criminal investigations?

Did you know that Crime Stoppers has helped Canadian law enforcement agencies arrest more than 200,000 criminal suspects since the first Canadian Crime Stoppers chapter was established in 1983, or that the program has paid more than $16 million in rewards for tips that have led to the seizure of more than $3.6 billion in illegal drugs, and recovery of more than $550 million in stolen property?

Read on to learn more about Crime Stoppers Canada, and how the lawyers at Mass Tsang can clear up the program’s operation and origins as a prominent crime fighting tool.

Crime Stopper Ontario Origins

Billed as a partnership between the community, the media, and the police, Crime Stoppers was conceived by Canadian-born, Albuquerque, New Mexico police detective Greg MacAleese in 1976. Realizing that many witnesses to criminal activity are afraid to get involved, or occasionally apathetic, the detective developed the idea of offering cash rewards for anonymous tips that successfully led to arrests. When he combined this idea with televising a re-enactment of a recent murder, it generated numerous tips, one of which led to the arrest of the suspects. That first Crime Stopper outreach effort went on to procure another anonymous tip, which managed to lead to an arrest for an unrelated crime.

While Detective MacAleese had used his own money to reward the anonymous source that helped crack the first crime, public support for his effort was so robust that he was able to generate enough donations to formally establish Crime Stoppers Albuquerque. That first Crime Stoppers chapter was established as a local, non-profit charitable organization, independent of the police department. Its continuing success was so noteworthy that other cities started establishing their own Crime Stoppers chapters based on the same model.

The first Crime Stoppers Ontario chapter was established on May 23, 1983 in Hamilton, making it the second Canadian city after Calgary to set up the program. Today, there are 87 Crime Stopper chapters across the country, with 37 located in Ontario. Chapters continue to be locally organized and operated, with Crime Stoppers Canada and Crime Stoppers Ontario acting as umbrella organizations that provide additional support for the local efforts in Canada.

How Crime Stoppers Works

Crime Stoppers allows anyone to call a toll-free number and anonymously offer information about any criminal activity they are aware of, or may have witnessed. The Crime Stoppers phone number - 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) - is maintained by Crime Stoppers Canada, which directs incoming tips to the appropriate chapter. Any reports of a crime in progress are directed to call 911.

Some Crime Stoppers chapters also allow informers to submit their tips via a secure link on their website; given the rise of mobile communications, there’s a Crime Stoppers app as well. Any information provided by phone, website, or app is forwarded to the relevant law enforcement jurisdiction. If the tip results in an arrest and/or the recovery of stolen goods, illegal drugs, or other contraband, the police will evaluate how helpful the information was to their investigation. Based on the outcome, a Crime Stoppers tip can be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000. Naturally, rewards tend to be highest for the most serious crimes, such as murder, sexual assault, weapons violations, and significant illegal drug seizures.

How Crime Stoppers Maintains Confidentiality

Crime Stoppers callers are advised to not submit any personal information or any details that could identify them (i.e., referring to the suspect as your next-door neighbour). The dedicated Crime Stoppers number does not use any caller identification, tracing, or tracking tools, and all information submitted through websites and the app are fully encrypted to ensure computer-related anonymity.

Callers are provided with a unique identification number that is used for future communications with Crime Stoppers, and to collect rewards. Under Canadian law, a caller’s identity can be protected by the rule of informer privilege, and the courts have ruled that this extends to Crime Stopper anonymity. Thus, the police, Crown, courts, and Crime Stoppers administrators are duty bound to protect the identities of all informers.

The anonymity of a Crime Stoppers caller can only be broken under four scenarios:

  • The caller elects to waive the privilege.
  • The caller initiates communications with the police regarding the investigation after submitting a Crime Stoppers tip.
  • The information provided by the caller was made with the intent of furthering criminal activity, or of interfering with the administration of justice.
  • If disclosing information about the caller is the only information available that can prove the innocence of an accused person.

Under that last scenario, judges must follow a carefully prescribed process for determining if such a waiver is needed, and must strive to the highest extent possible to protect the caller’s anonymity.

Distinct Differences Between Crime Stoppers Programs

Because Crime Stoppers is locally operated, there can be distinct differences between individual chapters relating to publicity, outreach, affiliated programs, and tip submissions. Depending upon which chapter’s website you are viewing, you might see pages devoted to:

  • Crime Stoppers Most Wanted
  • Crime Stoppers Mugshots
  • Crime Stoppers Crime of the Week
  • Crime Stoppers Unsolved Crimes
  • Crime Stoppers Cold Cases
  • Any number of local crime fighting campaigns

Outreach efforts also vary widely, with some chapters supporting aggressive print, TV, and online advertising, and others not.

Such differences are due in part to how much money a chapter might make through fundraising, with more money raised allowing chapters to offer website tip submissions and greater publicity, outreach, affiliated programs, and campaigns.

Types of criminal activity in a particular area can also drive a chapter’s affiliated programs and campaigns. For example, Toronto Crime Stoppers has campaigns targeting methamphetamine distribution and human trafficking, while Crime Stoppers of York Region has a program targeting poachers.

Crime Stopper Limitations

While Ontario Crime Stoppers chapters have helped clear more than 135,000 criminal cases, led to more than 126,000 arrests, and recovered more than $2.2 billion dollars in contraband and stolen property, the program does have some limitations.

Given the anonymity of the program, it is difficult to verify the veracity of information received, and Crime Stoppers encounters plenty of false or otherwise unreliable tips. Crime Stoppers Canada’s president, David Forster, believes that 40% of incoming tips prove helpful to law enforcement, though some critics believe the percentage is much lower.

On occasion, false or faulty information can and does get accidently provided, as some callers are motivated by the promise of a cash reward, or revenge. Such motivators can motivate people to outright lie, or otherwise relay incorrect information about the criminal activity and/or suspect(s). Police may also lock onto a suspect based on false or misleading information, and be driven to make an arrest despite additional evidence that might suggest innocence.

In short, a Crime Stopper tip shouldn’t be considered evidence per se, but should be used by police as a starting point to gather additional information. In fact, police typically cannot secure an arrest or search warrant based solely on a Crime Stoppers tip, though sometimes, they manage to. When police forces do rely too heavily on Crime Stoppers for a specific investigation, defence lawyers often take notice, and this can lead to challenges that ultimately prove favorable for the suspect.

Consult with the Expert Criminal Defence Lawyers at Mass Tsang

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, trying to counter the accusation without an expert in legal advice can prove dangerous. Given the potential for severe penalties, a criminal record, or disruptions to your life that can arise out of a guilty conviction, contact the highly experienced criminal lawyers at Mass Tsang to ensure that you fight the charges with the highest degree of security and defense.

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