Here's a tip: CrimeStoppers deserves city funding for marketing
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, February 10, 2013
2/10/13 at 7:31 AM
Following the 2012 Good Friday killing rampage Tulsa Police rather quickly identified suspects, but it was a Crime Stoppers tip that lead them to one of the men ultimately charged and now awaiting trial.
The public will never know who phoned 596-COPS with crucial information; callers to the 33-year-old hotline remain anonymous.
In an anti-snitching age, where publicly coming forward could equate to a death sentence, the hotline offers a safe alternative to getting shot or threatened. If the tip pans out and leads to an arrest, callers get a reward and authorities often get their man (or woman).
Crime Stoppers averages about 300 tips a month, with a high success (arrest) rate on information supplied.
Yet no good deed goes unpunished. This reliable public-safety asset currently receives no or very little funding from any of the metro area governments that reap its benefits. In 2009, in the depths of the recession, the city of Tulsa withdrew the sliver of funding - $15,000 - it provided annually to the Crime Prevention Network, formerly called the Citizens Crime Commission. The program now relies exclusively on private donations and grants.
For several years Councilor G.T. Bynum has felt strongly that the city should provide more support for the program, but his idea failed to generate much reaction. That changed recently. Following the Jan. 7 homicides of four women at the Fairmont Terrace Apartments at 61st Street and Peoria Avenue, Bynum created the Public Safety Intelligence Working Group.
Last week that group recommended that the city enter into a contract with the Crime Prevention Network to provide annual funding from the city.
According to a Wednesday story by Tulsa World City Hall reporter Zack Stoycoff, the group also recommended that the city:
- Examine the cost of hiring local Crime Stoppers operators, who are now based out of state.
- Give police business cards with Crime Stoppers information to distribute.
- Include Crime Stoppers information in residents' utility bills and on the city's website.
The council is expected to vote on recommendations later this year. Any funding, however, must be approved along with the next fiscal year's budget.
"It is a very successful program," says Carol Bush, executive director of the Crime Prevention Network. "There were times in the last couple of years that it was critical to arrests."
Rewards range from $500 to $1,500, or more for major information. Crime Stoppers gave out about $20,000 in rewards last year but sometimes the rewards are not picked up.
"We never know why not. Because the tips are anonymous we cannot ask," Bush said. "Did they not pick it up because they were afraid of being seen? Or, perhaps because they thought calling in the information was the right thing to do?" and that was reward enough? "It's complicated."
So is the network's relationship with the city. Bush and her board want Crime Stoppers and Alert Neighbors, both operated by the Crime Prevention Network, to remain independent. But that doesn't preclude the city - at a minimum - from helping the network get the word out about the programs.
Bush recently visited the high-crime area where the quadruple homicides took place. She held 17 different meetings, explaining in great detail how Crime Stoppers works.
"It finally occurred to me that the tip line isn't being marketed in the most palatable and usable way," Bush said
A major marketing campaign, like some of those undertaken elsewhere, would cost at least $250,000, money the Crime Prevention Network probably could not begin to raise on its own - and should not have to by itself.
Supporting Crime Stoppers, a tried and true mechanism for helping police solve crimes, is a worthy investment. Providing reliable funding isn't a notion that should be talked to death with no tangible results.
The network needs a solid business plan, Bush said, whereby public money could be matched with private donations and grants.
"Crime has changed in the last decade," she said. "Crime doesn't know any boundaries." Although most tips relate to Tulsa crimes, calls also come in about crimes in the multi-county metro area. While all area communities and counties have experienced budget constraints it might be time, Bush said, for other communities to chip in with help for the Crime Prevention Network.
"We've all got the same goal - to get the bad guys off the street."
To do that requires publicizing the anonymous tip line. Even after 33 years, many residents don't know about it, that it's anonymous, that it pays a reward and that it often leads to solving crimes. Spreading the word - through strategic marketing - billboards, in buses, in utility bills, at the health department and state social services offices, at churches, schools and businesses, and in the media, all could have an impact.
Here's a tip: As a matter of public safety, Crime Stoppers needs reliable city funding. Such an investment would be rewarded many times over.
Original Print Headline: Here's A Tip: Crime Stoppers deserves city funding
Julie DelCour 918-581-8379