The coordinator of Near North Crime Stoppers if promoting and raising awareness of the program to municipal councils in the Almaguin Highlands.
Lemieux told Burk’s Falls council the program works because it's able to assure tipsters their anonymity. “People feel safe providing the tips,” he said. Lemeiux said the three main components are the public, the media and the police. “For every crime that is committed, someone other than the person who committed the crime knows about it.” However, people with knowledge about a crime are reluctant to come forward for a variety of reasons. “There could be fear of reprisals, apathy where they don't want to get involved or don't like appearing in court,” he said. “That's where Crime Stoppers comes in with the anonymity component. The public provides the information and we in turn pass it along to the police.” The media helps promote the program when Crime Stoppers issues a release about an unsolved crime. When the police look into a Crime Stoppers tip, they tell the organization about the outcome so Crime Stoppers can reward the tipster with a cash award if the information panned out. Crime Stoppers is present in numerous communities across North America. It was created in 1976 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a detective got the local media to reenact an armed robbery at a gas station where a murder was also committed. Lemieux told Burk's Falls council Albuquerque police had “very little information on how the crime was committed.” But when the police offered a $500 cash reward for information on the crime, the case was solved within 17 hours. The key to the tip was the tipster's name would remain anonymous. News on how the police solved the armed robbery spread, and with other departments copying the method, Crime Stoppers was born. The program arrived in the Parry Sound District and Nipissing District in 1988 and was named Near North Crime Stoppers. At the local level, Near North Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards ranging from $50 to $2,000 and the age of social media has more recently seen the agency create a website and Facebook page. Lemieux says 82 per cent of all tips that come into Near North Crime Stoppers are online. When a tip is made online, once the individual hits the submit button the encrypted data goes to two different servers. One is in the United States and the other is in Ottawa. This further enhances the tipster’s anonymity. “So if I was to trace the information back, the best I can do is to only get back to the web address of the two servers,” Lemieux said. “It's impossible for me to get back to the computer where the information was sent from.” If a person calls Crime Stoppers, Lemieux says they are not asked for their name. “Also we have no call-tracing capabilities and we don't record the calls,” he said. Before passing the information on to the police, Lemieux further guarantees a tipster's anonymity by omitting any information the person gives that could give away their identity. “So for example, if the person calling says 'my neighbour is dealing in drugs,' I will delete the neighbour's reference so the police don't know who provided the information,” Lemieux said. Lemieux has been Near North Crime Stoppers' coordinator for 20 years and he's seen a trend develop where more tipsters don't want the cash reward. He says about 75 per cent of those who submit a tip decline the reward.
“They do it because it's the right thing to do.” Since the program's success depends on anonymity, Lemieux says the downside is Crime Stoppers can never “brag about a specific tip” where police seized numerous drugs worth tens of thousands of dollars. “And also we don't go public and say 'see it works.' The drugs seized by police were the result of a Crime Stoppers tip,” Lemieux said. But the local organization compiles annual statistics and since its inception in 1988, Near North Crime Stoppers has received 21,000 tips that have led to 1,740 arrests. Those arrests have resulted in $250,000 paid out in cash rewards. But the two figures Lemieux is extremely proud of and demonstrates how well the program works is that over that time, Crime Stoppers has recovered property and money worth $4.3 million and “we've also taken $57.3 million dollars in drugs off the streets.'. When someone submits a tip, they are given a special tip number and password “and it's that person's responsibility to check from time to time to see if the tip was successful or not.” Lemieux says Near North Crime Stoppers is funded 100 per cent by area fundraising campaigns. Each year the agency raises $50,000 to $60,000 to help pay for the rewards it hands out, buy promotional materials and computers and also pay a part-time executive director. It operates out of the North Bay Police Service headquarters, which helps cut down on costs. Lemieux’s part-time salary as coordinator is covered by the police. The Crime Stoppers van is a donation, but Crime Stoppers pays for expenses associated with the vehicle like annual insurance. One area where Crime Stoppers receives provincial money is to help pay for an after hours answering service, since the local office can't be staffed 24/7. This same provincial funding is offered to all Crime Stoppers offices that don't have around the clock in-person service. The COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years put a heavy dent in fundraising efforts, but what really helped the organization during this period was its ability to sell Nevada tickets in North Bay, Sturgeon Falls and Parry Sound. Near North Crime Stoppers' two major fundraisers are the Celebrity Jail-A-Thon, which Lemieux believes may be able to return next year, and the annual golf tournament. After a two-year break, the golf tournament will be back at the Highview Golf Course in Powassan Aug. 26. Lemieux says the board of directors is dedicated and has very little turnover. The directors are all volunteers from various walks of life, including retired police officers. The makeup of the board is such that the surrounding communities outside North Bay are also represented. Crime Stoppers has the same tip number across Canada - 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Tips can also be submitted online at www.nearnorthcrimestoppers.com Since it's a charitable organization, anyone can also donate to Crime Stoppers and if the donation is $20 or more, a tax receipt is issued. Burk's Falls Mayor Cathy Still commended Lemieux for the great work Crime Stoppers does across both districts. “It's a worthwhile program,” she said. “They get no funding from anyone and look at the good work they do.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget