Toronto Crime Stoppers Gets 10,300 Anonymous Tips for 25th Birthday
Relationship building with Social Media makes it happen
Toronto Crime Stoppers received a record number of anonymous tips in 2009 to help the police prevent and solve crimes. In 2007 the average number of tips per month was 350, in 2009 it was close to 1,000 per month. Social media using a relationships and technology approach is one major reason behind the increased success. This article will explain some of the steps taken by a collaboration of community and police through both traditional and social media that led to the increased number of tips.
At a ceremony at Toronto Police Headquarters in January, 2010 at the launch of “International Crime Stoppers Month” an unlikely group of people were on hand, in front of a throng of major media cameras and local, national and international newspaper writers. Toronto Police Chief William Blair was present as the guest of honour.
Toronto Police Services Board member and local city councillor Adam Vaughan was on the podium representing Toronto’s Tweeting Mayor David Miller, as was the President of Crime Stoppers International Mr. Gary Murphy. The Creative Director of national advertising firm DDB Canada Mr. Andrew Simon was next to these dignitaries, set to launch the 2010 “Cash For Guns” campaign with a series of new posters, bus stop ads and billboard ads that equalled a $100,000 in kind donation to Toronto Crime Stoppers.
Perhaps the most unlikely, and most uncomfortable person on the podium was 20 year old Jason Tojeiro, the Toronto BMX rider and youth mentor, honoured in Australia in 2009 as Crime Stoppers International Student of the Year .
I have documented Jason’s work mentoring the youth of Rexdale’s Tandridge Crescent in 2009 in social media on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The story leading up to this special day announcing a record number of anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers to help the police prevent or solve a crime is a long and winding road with many ups and downs along the way.
One part of the success story of a record # of anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers started at a Young President’s Organization (YPO) Christmas Party in December of 2007 that featured honoured guests, NHL Hockey greats Ron Ellis and Marcel Dionne, as well as Toronto philanthropist, radio broadcaster and political elite John Tory. Part of the festivities that day included the construction of a freestyle BMX Bike Park by the YPO membership and their families – some 40 CEO’s of companies, all under 40yrs of age. The whole idea had been inspired by a presentation I was honoured to have been invited to do on Social Media in Law Enforcement to YPO delegates in the summer of 2007. Court (and wife Kirsten) Carruthers (Acklands-Grainger International CEO) had left that presentation sharing with me a passion for engagement of youth and police through exciting grass roots community activities for youth like BMX and graffiti.
Some of the most important guests on the day of the BMX Park construction were the graffiti artists doing a demonstration of their talents decorating the ramps with community building art work. One of those artists was the 2008 Crime Stoppers International Student of the Year – graffiti artist Kedre ‘Bubblz’ Browne. He was joined by his friend Jessey ‘Phade’ Pacho, who also has been honoured as an international community builder through his community work with graffiti by Communities Advancing Valued Environments (CAVE).
The success of this BMX Bike Park construction and graffiti community building initiative was quickly spread to a Toronto Community Housing Corporation parking lot at 75 Tandridge Crescent, Toronto, Ontario Canada thanks to the community collaboration between the Toronto Police Service, Barry Thomas from Toronto Community Housing, and Allan Crawford of the city of Toronto Parks Forestry and Recreation Department.
Lost in the Headlines
Fast forward to the announcement of a record number of tips received by Toronto Crime Stoppers at the press conference in January, 2010, you might be surprised to learn that the story in the main stream media the next day was not the record number of tips, but that of a murder victim’s family appealing for tips.
A citizen journalist had seen the Facebook Event inviting the community to attend the launch of Crime Stoppers Month celebrating the record number of tips and launching the 2010 Cash For Guns campaign , and took it upon herself to invite the media to the same time and place to speak to a family appealing for information on the identity of the killer in their time of grief for their loved one Kenneth Mark, who had been gunned down innocently as he got a slice of pizza in The Junction area of Toronto. Mr Mark was a respected community leader who worked tirelessly to keep youth out of gangs. He was Toronto’s 62nd and last murder of 2009. This story, rightfully so, was timely, and needed the attention of the mainstream media to assist the police in solving this terrible murder. But the message to the sustainable success of the Crime Stoppers program in preventing so many similar incidents over the past 25 years was lost for that day… but not in the long run.. thanks to the posting of several videos to Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.
The truth behind the success of the program is that Crime Stoppers is a sustainable, local, provincial, national and international program, with close to 1,300 programs worldwide, all community operated in partnership with their local police agencies and the media. The real reason behind Toronto’s increase in tips from 350/month to close to 1000/month since 2007, and the incredible success of the program is ‘youth engagement’, and the use of SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook, YouTube , Twitter and Vibe.to.
Three Missing Teens
It started in 2007 with 3 missing Toronto teens, Eve Ho, Kevin Lim and Jackie Li being posted to Youtube, followed shortly thereafter by a homicide investigation for slain teen Omar Wellington in Flemington Park area of Toronto. Since, every type of crime from sexual assaults, to wanted Hells Angels gang members, armed robberies and even theft from autos has been posted into social media. The biggest key has been my steadfast belief in the philosophy of ‘let the people speak’ in social media. There has been a lot of chatter online about the cases, and the positive youth work, which has generated an increased education on how the anonymous tips work.
As alluded to above, it wasn’t just appeals for unsolved crimes that were being posted to social media. Positive youth engagement through graffiti art projects and two freestyle BMX parks, Toronto Marlies hockey games and community skating events, Caribana and Gay Pride Parades (the “Your Tip Is Safe With Us” condom campaign) , the Youth in Policing program (YiPi) as well as daily school presentations were all celebrated in social media. Students were given lessons on privacy, identity theft prevention and responsible posting in the Crime Stoppers presentations, and the fan based grew bigger each and every day.
The key to making this success continue is the continuation of positive community engagement between the police and the community, and the continued increased use of social media. I’m a firm believer that we must make what has been accomplished here with Crime Stoppers sustainable for police services worldwide.
The Toronto Crime Stoppers program is in good hands in 2010, under the new direction of Coordinator Detective Darlene Ross, and Community Youth Officer Constable Martin Douglas. The plan is to continue with youth engagement projects, and education on the power of prevention of Crime Stoppers programs worldwide. Constable Douglas is very involved in an after school dance program called “Krumping Out Crime”, and is well on his way to establishing a similar following of youth on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter through his positive relationships with “Krumping” youth.
A record number of tips have come into the program in 2009. Over 10,300 tips to be exact. The program has come a long way since it was started in Toronto in 1984 by now retired Staff Superintendent Gary Grant. He took the initiative 25 years ago to form a community partnership driven by the community to help the police. He will tell you that it never was an easy road to forge with the police. The community was always on board and ready to help, but he had to overcome obstacles with the police partnership. Grant says those obstacles are still being overcome today, but it is hard to tell when Police Chief Blair tells the assembled media that his police service greatly appreciates all the community work that the Crime Stoppers community volunteers do to raise the money to pay up to $2000.00 in cash rewards for each of those over 10,000 tips.
We must teach other community members and law enforcement officers to use the power of social media. The police and the community do great work, but a lot of it does not get celebrated or ‘engaged’. We need to think of ‘engagement’ and not simply ‘marketing’ of the community safety message. It is as simple and inexpensive as a $150 digital camera and an investment daily of thirty minutes of time on social media sites like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. The road to success is relatively inexpensive. Saving even one life is worth every penny.
( Talk: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) Type: http://222tips.com or TEXT TOR plus your message to CRIMES (274637) . .. see how anonymous text tips works worldwide here, which has resulted in increased awareness of the cases themselves and how Crime Stoppers works. Recently, the ability to leave a tip directly from Facebook has been added to the pages of Toronto Crime Stoppers, Toronto Police Service and Crime Stoppers International, as well as the individual profiles of myself and Constable Martin Douglas. The best is yet to come.
To view videos and posts related to this article click on the following links:
Constable Scott Mills has begun a new position as the Toronto Police Service Social Media Relations Officer on April 1, 2010. He can be contacted at scott.mills[at]TorontoPolice.on.ca
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Combining social media, relationship and technology to develop a working relationship between the community and the police to solve and prevent crime is an excellent example of creative problem solving. The use of social media as a source of communication is somewhat ironic given the rise in Internet crime. However, as with all technological and other types of inventions, the purpose of its use determines the outcome, whether good or bad.
With respect to Crimestoppers, I believe its success through this medium of communication can be attributed to anonymity and its consequent alleviation of a very real fear of retaliation from criminals. Electronic communication is also a step removed from direct contact with the police, which can be a daunting experience for some. Accuracy and uncertainty is another factor that leads to reticence. For some people, receiving, processing and remembering visual or auditory information is difficult through no fault of their own, and they fear the risk of error that could lead to a wrongful conviction. In terms of police/community relations, civilian training in issues related to witnessing a crime or suspect would be invaluable, as I believe these things could be taught to a certain degree, like self defence. And, of course, traumatization could affect perception and memory. Yet as scary as it is, when we turn a blind eye to crime, and at the risk of sounding trite, to evil, it grows. In that respect, I can only imagine the courage, maturity and skill police must have to deal with instant, sometimes life and death decisions everyday, and see the dark side of humanity while carrying out the duty to “serve and protect”.
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