Many residents misled about nature of anonymous tip line, director says
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
1/16/13 at 7:40 AM
Get complete coverage: Read Tuesday’s court filing and other coverage about the 61st and Peoria-area homicides.
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Widespread misconceptions about the city's anonymous crime-reporting tip line are discouraging residents from using the service, Crime Prevention Network Director Carol Bush told a City Council working group Tuesday.
More outreach and education are needed to dispel fears that the tip line is not secure or truly anonymous, she said.
The comments came in the first meeting of the Public Safety Intelligence Working Group, which was created by City Councilor G.T. Bynum in response to a Jan. 7 quadruple homicide at the Fairmont Terrace Apartments near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue. The group, which will meet three more times in the next three weeks, seeks to develop "specific objectives" for improving communication between residents and police, Bynum said.
"This is about the whole city," he said. "It's not just about 61st and Peoria."
Bush said the misconceptions about the Crime Stoppers tip line were apparent in a neighborhood meeting she attended Monday night with police and residents of apartment complexes in that area, including Fairmont Terrace.
The residents complained that the line is insecure and offers no anonymous, effective way of reporting crimes, she said.
"That was an angry mob of 13 people," she said. "I said 'hello,' and they attacked."
She said the crowd relaxed once she explained that the tip line is manned by call takers who relay tips to police without the callers' names, and that callers are issued an identification number that can be used to collect any cash reward anonymously.
Many people mistakenly believe that those answering the phone are police officers, Bush said.
"You have to explain the process step by step," Bush said. "By the end of the night ... they said, 'Oh, I can do that.' "
Although the Crime Prevention Network has had success working with news media to educate the public about the tip line, Bush said authorities must also begin a marketing campaign targeting "places that (people) go."
Advertisements next to gas station pumps, in grocery store checkout lines and health clinic waiting rooms are possibilities, she said. She also suggested mailing Crime Stoppers brochures with utility bills.
"We need to think out of the box and go to nontraditional forms of advertising," she said.
The Crime Prevention Network, however, operates on a budget of about $58,000 a year - not including salaries - and has no money budgeted for marketing, Bush said.
A massive marketing campaign could grow the budget to around $250,000, she said.
The network, which changed its name from the Tulsa Crime Commission this month, is a nonprofit organization funded by donations, city contracts and grants. It oversees Crime Stoppers and the Alert Neighbors program.
The public safety working group includes representatives of the Tulsa Police Department, the Tulsa Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and news media.
Its next meeting will explore ways to protect witnesses testifying in court after anonymous tips are made to Crime Stoppers or police, Bynum said.
First Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler told the group that such tips do not help prosecutors if there is no one to testify in court against a defendant. Some kind of protection system is needed, he said.
"It's information, but if I can't put it under oath to testify, it's useless information," he said.
Public safety groups work toward common goals
City Councilor G.T. Bynum said Tuesday that the Public Safety Intelligence Working Group and the Public Safety Task Force serve distinct purposes.
The task force, which presented its recommendations to the City Council last month, was charged with providing the city with a broad array of suggestions on how to make Tulsa America's safest city - a joint goal of the City Council and mayor's office, Bynum said.
"Whereas what we are doing now is extremely specific," the councilor said. "It is solely focused on how we can generate and process more tips"for the police.
Bynum said he expects the task force's recommendations to be a subject of discussion when the City Council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett meet later this month to outline their joint goals for 2013.
- KEVIN CANFIELD, World Staff Writer
Crime Stoppers tip line
Tips leading to arrest: 80 percent
Rewards paid: More than $500,000
Number: 918-596-COPS (2677)
Text message tips: Text "TIP918" followed by the tip to 274637
Online tips: tulsaworld.com/crimestoppers
Original Print Headline: Anonymous tip line hurt by misconceptions, leader says
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Carol Bush: The Crime Prevention Network director says many residents hold misconceptions about the Crime Stoppers tip line, complaining that it is insecure and fails to provide anonymity. Bush said the network needs to become more effective at educating the public about the tip line's process.