Crime Stoppers’ Executive Director Linda Annis (centre) presents Asian Journal Publisher Lucky Randhawa the Crime Stoppers 2012 Print Award. Vancouver Police Sgt. Ron Fairweather is on the right.
Vancouver Police Sgt. Ron Fairweather. Photo by Chandra Bodalia
ASIAN Journal’s partnership with Crime Stoppers since we started this newspaper in 2010 has been edifying and satisfying as we learned about the exact role of this invaluable organization and reached out to South Asians and others to explain its role and encourage their participation in the program.
And Crime Stoppers awarded us the Crime Stoppers 2012 Print Award “in recognition for outstanding performance and commitment to British Columbia Crime Stoppers.”
As the son of a police officer (my dad was a deputy inspector-general of police in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the 1960s and 1970s) and a reporter who covered crime both in New Delhi (in the 1970’s and 1980s) and in Vancouver (since the 1990s), I can boast of some kind of a special insight into policing / law and order issues. And so naturally I wanted to help bridge the gap between law enforcement agencies and the South Asian community while fiercely protecting the rights of community members (as readers well know).
Back in the 1990s, when I was working for a mainstream newspaper, I came into contact with then-constable Ron Fairweather of the Vancouver Police Department as he was working in the public relations section. He was a straightforward and pleasant kind of guy. Fairweather finally moved to another section and I lost touch with him.
Fairweather went on to be Executive Officers’ Administrative Sergeant in the Operations Division (1999-2000), Sergeant in charge of the Recruiting Unit of the Support Services Division (200-2004), Patrol Supervisor of the Operations Division (2004-2005), Sergeant in charge of Missing Persons, Coroner’s Liaison, Witness Protection Unit in the Investigations Division (2205-2008), and Community / Business Liaison in Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (2008-2010) before joining Crime Stoppers in 2010.
Coincidentally, in 2010, I decided to learn more about Crime Stoppers and when I contacted them, I was pleasantly surprised to speak to Fairweather who was now the Municipal Police Coordinator with that organization.
So I invited him and Ron Singh, who had been Director of Crime Stoppers since 1997 and is a former sergeant of the Royal Fiji Military Forces, to come over to my office for an interview “to assure South Asians, Chinese-Canadians and other ethnic minorities that they can safely leave tips on any crime or suspected crime without any fear of being identified or being forced to appear in court” (I have reproduced parts of the interview below as a vital public service.)
THIS week is the last for Fairweather at Crime Stoppers as he’s retiring after 33 years in the police force, having worked under seven chief constables.
He emailed to me: “I have had a fabulous career and will just be taking a week off to go skiing and then will start a new career with the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, which is a position with the provincial government under the Ministry of Finance. I will work out of an office in Burnaby.”
Fairweather is the kind of police officer we can all be proud of and Asian Journal wished him the very best in his new field.
IN our lengthy 2010 write-up on Crime Stoppers titled “You Can Trust Crime Stoppers 100 Per Cent – Your Identity Can Never Be Revealed!” I wrote:
DO you know about a crime?
Theft? Illegal guns? Drugs? Assault? Illegal immigration? Smuggling? Illegal income? Fraud?
Or do you suspect someone is involved in a crime?
But you don’t want to call or deal with the police because you just don’t want to get involved?
Or you fear your name might be revealed or that you will have to be a witness in court?
Just call Crime Stoppers – they are NOT the police!
And there are four ways that you can leave an anonymous tip without any fear that police or anyone else will trace your call or track you down.
They are only interested in your information – not who you are.
You can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or 1-800-222-TIPS.
Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers provides a telephone multilingual translation service capable of accepting tips in 115 different languages. You can ask to make a tip in the language of your choice. The tip operator receiving your call will arrange the translation service for you.
Or go to www.solvecrime.ca and leave a tip online.
Or text: BCTIP and you message to CRIMES (274637).
Or Facebook: www.facebook.com/metrovancouvercrimestoppers.
Information from tips is also provided to various organizations such as Canada Revenue Agency, Customs, Immigration, Conservation and so on.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
SINGH and Fairweather recounted how the Crime Stoppers program started in the U.S. in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1976 when there was a gas station robbery and for no reason the two robbers shot the young attendant. The detectives that were working on the file had absolutely run out of leads Detective Greg MacAleese approached the local TV station and said ‘we’ve got to get this out to the community of 350,000 people. Now somebody has to have seen something.’
And when they did the reenactment, a person phoned the next day and said that while he was walking home he heard a loud band and then saw a vehicle with two men race by. He said he’d seen the vehicle somewhere before.
Fairweather said: “And with that little bit of tip information that came in because of that reenactment they were able to quickly locate the vehicle, locate one of the suspects and then very shortly afterwards arrest the second suspect. So within 72 hours of doing that reenactment, they had two people in custody which led to final charges.”
And Singh very proudly pointed out that MacAleese was actually a Canadian-born officer.
What is more, as the Albuquerque Crime Stoppers website states: “In addition, police received information that solved a handful of other local crimes. Local business people and citizens quickly volunteered their time, talent, and money to give birth to Albuquerque Metro Crime Stoppers.
“As a result of this success, Crime Stopper Programs are now worldwide.”
Singh said the program came to Vancouver in 1984 with the help of the former chief of the Vancouver Police Department, Bob Stewart, and the then-assistant commissioner of the RCMP. They approached the Kiwanis Club for funding and that kicked off the Greater Vancouver Crime Stoppers program which is now known as the Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers – from Powell River and Whistler to Abbotsford.
Fairweather said that he as the Municipal Police Coordinator worked along with the RCMP coordinator who deals with all the other Crime Stoppers in the rest of the province. The programs are at various levels: from local to regional to national to international.
Singh said: “International Crime Stoppers help set up new programs in new countries. They are responsible for setting the standards. They also are responsible for training; so once a year there’s a training conference and anyone who’s a member can attend irrespective of whether you are from a small municipality or a larger entity like Greater Vancouver.”
PROGRESS WITH ETHNIC COMMUNITIES
SINGH said he had seen “a lot of changes in terms of how much we’ve progressed with the ethnic communities.”
He added: “I think we’ve been more aggressive in targeting that community from the Crime Stoppers side, appearing on radio stations, TV and print media, getting our message out there, working very closely with the community and that has helped.”
But he also noted how hard it’s been trying to get ethnic groups involved in Crime Stoppers “because of the perception that we are a police organization as opposed to a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization.”
However, the message does seem to be getting out to the ethnic communities although, of course, there are no statistics for any ethnic group because of the anonymity factor.
Singh stressed the fact that the Crime Stoppers Board and the police are SEPARATE entities.
He noted: “They say this is a police organization because police talks about Crime Stoppers, they tell people to phone Crime Stoppers. So they think it’s part of the police. But we are a non-profit organization. We are a civilian, volunteer-driven organization working in partnership with the police. We set the policy, we raise the funds, we do everything. We have a civilian board and our job is to take the tips and pass them on to the police for investigation.”
The board is selected from the community and the members are “core people, highly regarded people from all sections of the community.”
The Board retains its independence from the police by raising money from its annual golf tournament that raises about $40,000, corporate donations and a grant from the Gaming Commission.
Singh said: “For administrative services costs, we bill the municipalities that we serve based on the demographics.” But they can’t pay the reward for tips that lead to results from the municipal grants.
SO how does the whole process take place?
Singh and Fairweather explained what happens step by step.
Well, first of all, when you phone Crime Stoppers you are assigned a number and that is the ONLY way that you can continue to communicate with them if you want to check on the status of your call AFTER 60 days or if you call in earlier with ADDITIONAL information.
Fairweather noted: “A lot of people are curious because they have given information to the police. First of all, it’s taken a lot of courage to do that because there is that distrust, especially in certain ethnic communities, that despite [the fact that they don’t give their names], they may still think their phone is being traced. But there’s nothing like that.”
He assured them: “All we are looking for is the information and the foundation of the Crime Stoppers is on anonymity. [The tipsters] can never be compelled to attend court to testify. They will always be anonymous and by having that anonymity, we try to overcome apathy and the reluctance for people to take that step to [contact Crime Stoppers].”
He also noted: “Ideally the number one way for information to be received in relation to criminal matters or suspicious activity is to call the police [at] 911. But a lot of times when you are phoning in 911 the operator wants to know your name, or your address, they may ask for your date of birth and there are those things that people do not want to provide that information.
“But always there’s more than one person that knows information about a crime and that’s why Crime Stoppers is really at the forefront of [investigations].
“ … They can call by phone, they can do it online, they can do a text tip, they can also send a tip through Facebook. Even by using social media, there is still no way to trace back who it is. And again, that’s not our intention. We just need to get good information in relation to a crime that’s occurred and then we forward that to the appropriate police agency.”
The original call goes to a call centre and there’s a trained staff that takes all the information. It is then electronically forwarded to the appropriate Crime Stoppers agency and that’s when police are on the receiving end of the tip information. Then police determine to which police agency or related agency – maybe Canada Border Services Agency – that tip information will go.
There’s also a tracking mechanism because when that tip, for example, is in relation to a marijuana grow-op in Surrey, it goes out to Surrey Drugs and they need to get back to Crime Stoppers within 60 days. So Crime Stoppers can then advise the tipster should they phone in and they can tell them that the information they provided was a successful tip which led to a drug seizure and arrest.
WHEN the tip leads to a successful operation, the tipster is eligible for a cash reward, if he wants it.
Of course, the tipster has to call Crime Stoppers to find out about it, because they don’t have the tipster’s phone number or any other information.
But how does Crime Stopper deliver the reward to a tipster if they don’t know anything about them?
Singh explained: “Basically you’re given a coded number [when you first call with the tip] and the system has proven very, very effective. So we never know people’s name.”
Crime Stoppers then lets the tipster know where and when the money will be handed over to them. The tipster has to tell Crime Stoppers what they are going to be wearing. Two Crime Stoppers Board members are assigned to pay out the tips after the tipster provides his coded number.
Interestingly, LESS THAN FIVE PER CENT of tipsters seek out the tip rewards. The vast majority apparently feel they are just doing their civic duty. Fairweather noted that when tipsters phone back to find out about results and discover that they provided information that led to arrests, they feel good about their role. It also builds up trust between them and Crime Stoppers. And if its, say, a grow-op down the street and they see action being taken against it, it’s cleaning up their own neighbourhood.
Fairweather pointed out: “No other neighbor knows and we don’t know who they are.”
– RATTAN MALL