Calgary Crime Stoppers faces dwindling donations as gun violence rises in city

·4 min read
A Crime Stoppers ad on the side of a train running through downtown Calgary shares the anonymous tip line people can call with information about crimes. (Crime Stoppers Calgary - image credit)
A Crime Stoppers ad on the side of a train running through downtown Calgary shares the anonymous tip line people can call with information about crimes. (Crime Stoppers Calgary - image credit)

The president of Calgary's Crime Stoppers chapter says the organization is struggling after years of declining donations, just as support is needed more than ever.

The charity allows Calgarians to anonymously supply the police with information and tips about crimes or potential crimes via a tip line, with the promise of a reward up to $2,000 for information leading to an arrest.

But the pandemic, and a slow decline in donations in the years leading up to it, have taken a toll on the charity, which relies on donations from the public and private sector to keep operating.

"Right now, the funding is very sparse," said Sudeep Bhargava, president of Calgary Crime Stoppers.

"In the last few years, it has been a very difficult challenge for us to survive. In the past five to seven years, we saw a decline, and we can't attribute why it's happening."

The organization is funded by public donations, casinos and partnerships with corporations in Calgary. The charity had a paid executive director up until four years ago, but that position was cut to save money. Now it's entirely volunteer-run with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) and RCMP as partners. CPS provides space for a call centre, which is staffed by volunteers and police employees.

Calgary has seen a rise in shootings recently, though police say the majority of these incidents are unrelated to organized crime.

Long-term solution needed

There has been some good news for Crime Stoppers in recent months. In May, the provincial government announced $850,000 in funding for Crime Stoppers chapters across Alberta over the next three years.

Last week, Tyler Shandro, Alberta's minister of justice, also announced $5.2 million in grants for programs that prevent crime and keep people safe. Eligible groups have until the end of September to apply for that funding.

"There never has been any funding from government and we've been trying for several years — provincial funding and federal funding," said Bhargava.

"It didn't go anywhere until very recently, and thankfully we've been able to obtain some funding for the entire province, rather than just urban areas."

But Bhargava said funding from the province is not a long-term solution for Calgary, and the organization needs to try and get other donations rolling in to better secure its future.

Monty Kruger/CBC
Monty Kruger/CBC

"Our corporate partners have supported us very well in the past. And now we hear that crime is going up and up and up. The shootings, vehicles stolen, B&E — all this is happening and we're working with bare minimum funds and no staffing," said Bhargava.

"We have a little bit of a reserve that we put aside for for rainy days, and we've been dipping into that. But that will not last for more than five years."

Private, public and government funding

Doug King, a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University, sat on the Crime Stoppers board around 20 years ago. He said the organization plays a valuable role that benefits the city when it comes to fighting crime.

"It does really provide a useful service to the criminal justice system. There are some people who would prefer to remain anonymous while giving information to the police," he said.

King said if Crime Stoppers was ever to go out of business, that anonymous tip avenue would be lost.

"It leads to some solved crimes that would never have been solved before, so it would be tragic if Crime Stoppers was not able to function," he said.

King said Crime Stoppers also protects people from being victimized when it comes to reporting crimes, such as incidences of domestic violence. But he doesn't think government should be funding organizations like Crime Stoppers.

"The first funding source should come from the private sector and private donations because it's an expression of good will and good community service for organizations that have a lot of money. It doesn't take a lot to run Crime Stoppers."

Government funding can change over time or even disappear, King said, leaving organizations that have come to rely on it financially exposed.

"Crime Stoppers needs to establish a very positive relationship with private industry. They've done it before and they just need to redouble their efforts," said King.

Bhargava said Crime Stoppers Calgary plans to launch a campaign next year to try to attract more corporate partners and donations and reverse the downward trend.

In the meantime, Bhargava said the provincial government's funding is a lifeline for the organization.