For more than 30 years, Cowichan Crime Stoppers has provided area residents with a secure, confidential method for people to get information to the authorities, and the results speak for themselves.
According to the organization’s website, since its inception in 1985, 2,819 tips have come in, resulting in 250 arrests, 236 cleared cases, and the recovery of $632,502 in stolen property and seizure of $9,175,542 in illegal drugs.
That’s an impressive list of accomplishments for any organization.
“We are a group of volunteers from various parts of the community,” said Derek Crawford, the vice president of Cowichan Crime Stoppers. “We work in partnership with the police and the media to get the information that is out there. Our primary purpose is to provide a means for people to get information to police for them to deal with.”
Crime Stoppers got its start in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1975, when a detective looking for details about a murder had the idea to air a re-enactment of the crime on television and offer a cash reward for anonymous information that led to an arrest.
“He knew the information was out there, but the people were afraid to come forward,” Crawford said.
Within 72 hours, the detective had the information he was seeking, and he was inspired to make the tip line permanent.
Crime Stoppers came to Canada in 1982, getting its start in Calgary. It spread rapidly, reaching the Cowichan Valley in 1985.
“It’s all over the globe now,” Crawford pointed out.
In order to maintain its autonomy, Crime Stoppers doesn’t rely on government funding, instead conducting fundraising initiatives and seeking donations from the community.
“We are set up to try and keep our organization at an arm’s length. We have a close relationship with the police on a day-to-day basis, but there is an element of independence.”
Cowichan Crime Stoppers covers the entire Cowichan Valley from the Malahat to the north end of North Cowichan, and from Maple Bay to the west coast of Vancouver Island, working with the North Cowichan/Duncan, Shawnigan Lake and Lake Cowichan RCMP detachments. Although the organization isn’t a police initiative, there are police liaisons that make it easier for them to work together.
A retired RCMP officer who worked as a Crime Stoppers liaison at postings in Gibsons and Duncan, Crawford has been on the Cowichan Crime Stoppers board since he retired in 2006, and has seen from both sides how valuable it is.
“I’ve had the benefit of seeing first-hand the results of some of the information provided,” he said. “It was an extra tool as a policeman.”
For something that has been around as long as it has, Crime Stoppers sometimes struggles to remain in the public eye. There are times when tips come in fast and furious, and other times when the lines are quiet for long stages.
“People have it in the backs of their minds, we hope, and when the occasion arises, they have somewhere to go,” Crawford said.
In addition to their long-standing phone line and memorable phone number (1-800-222-TIPS), Crime Stoppers has added a text messaging option at CRIMES (274637) — make sure the text includes the word “Cowichan” — which has proved popular.
“That’s becoming a very common thing,” Crawford said.
“In some communities, the majority of their tips come in from texting. For us, the phone is still the main one.”
Crawford likes that another option has been added to Crime Stoppers’ arsenal.
“It’s another means to communicate securely and maintain anonymity,” he said.
January is Crime Stoppers Month, and as part of that, donation canisters will be on the counters at all 7-Eleven stores in Canada throughout January and February, continuing a relationship that has run since 2004, resulting in more than $500,000 in donations, including a record-setting $53,000 last year.
Although Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards for information that leads to an arrest, most of the time, that money ends up back in the organization’s hands, according to Crawford.
“I’m always very surprised,” he said. “After the majority of successful tips, the board will deliberate and come up with an amount for a reward, but more often than not, the reward is not accepted. Their motivation isn’t the money. They want to get the information to the right people.”