Last month, 14 people phoned East Kootenay Crime Stoppers to anonymously report something they had seen that may have been a crime.
The information received in those 14 calls led the RCMP to make 11 arrests, recover $22,000 worth of stolen property, seize $7,500 worth of drugs, and take possession of one weapon.
Without Crime Stoppers, those crimes would go unnoticed, according to Al Sismey, a member of the B.C. Crime Stoppers Advisory Board, who was in Cranbrook last week making a last ditch effort to save the struggling non-profit.
“Eighty to ninety per cent of the information that Crime Stoppers takes anonymously wouldn’t go to the police because those people won’t phone the police. They are concerned about their safety,” said Sismey.
“Crime Stoppers guarantees anonymity – people don’t have to go to court, they never have to disclose their name. It’s important to have that information coming into police.”
Crime Stoppers is a community-based volunteer organization, completely independent of the RCMP.
The RCMP need the support of Crime Stoppers, Sismey said.
“There is no way our police can be the sole bearer of the crime problems in our community. We as citizens need to step up to the plate and do what we can — safely, not putting ourselves at risk. Having more eyes and ears in the community is always a good thing.”
According to the 2011 census, there are 56,000 people living in the East Kootenay.
“And we have 30 policemen,” said Cpl. Pat Prefontaine of Cranbrook RCMP. “We can’t see everything; we can’t even hope to see everything. We rely on the public to give us information on things they see that are going on so we can take action and correct them.”
What’s more, it’s vital to have a way for members of the community to provide tips anonymously.
“People are afraid of retribution. There are a lot of people out there who would like to report things, but for one reason or another they are afraid to. This is a way to allow them to do that,” said Cpl. Prefontaine.
“It’s a one-way flow of information. We don’t have access to the people they are talking to. That’s something that’s important for people to understand.”
In Cranbrook, co-ordinator Eric Ausman, a municipal employee, spends a small part of his day responding to tips.
He answers to a board of directors that fundraise, raise awareness of the organization, hand out rewards for tips, and try to recruit more volunteers.
East Kootenay Crime Stoppers has been running since 1991. Many of those board members have held the volunteer position for 10 years.
“You get to the point where you are frustrated and don’t see a horizon. They all believe in the program; they’ve all done a great job. But at some point we all get tired or our lives change and we have to move on,” said Sismey.
Now, East Kootenay Crime Stoppers needs to find new board members, or it will have to close down.
“I’m really hoping we can get some community members. It would be very nice if we got half a dozen (or) eight people who would step up to the plate and say, ‘I see the value, I’d like to help out,’ and start the ball rolling that way,” said Sismey.
It’s not only Cranbrook that benefits from Crime Stoppers, he went on. In fact, an increased police presence inside the city means crime sometimes spreads to regional areas like Invermere or Fernie.
“The more pressure Cranbrook puts on, then it pops up somewhere else. So it’s important that we all grab the rope and pull together and hopefully make it work, because it has been successful and I’d hate to see it fall by the wayside for these reasons,” said Sismey.
“Often people say, ‘I don’t live in Cranbrook so how am I going to get to a meeting?’ Well, today with all the technology, there are a lot of ways to have a meeting without all sitting around the same table.”
Sismey said a volunteer would only need to commit between five and 10 hours a month to the organization.
“It’s not a large time commitment for a volunteer,” he said. “The big issues are coming up with fundraising activities, day to day administration of the program, and recruiting new volunteers.”
Sismey travelled to Cranbrook last week to meet with community leaders about the future of East Kootenay Crime Stoppers. As well as his role on the B.C. Crime Stoppers board, Sismey is the regional co-ordinator for South Okanagan Similkameen Crime Stoppers.
He said one existing board member in the East Kootenay wants to stay on if the program continues. But it requires serious help to go on.
“Our plan of attack is to get an interim board to keep the program going and make sure rewards are paid,” said Sismey.
“Sometimes when people know that if somebody doesn’t step up to the plate, it may be gone, that will make a difference.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with East Kootenay Crime Stoppers can contact co-ordinator Eric Ausman at 250-417-4234.
If you have information about a potential crime, you can contact East Kootenay Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS, or visit www.cintek.com/crimestoppers.