Editor’s note: this is the third in a series of four articles in January dedicated to Crime Stoppers month.
Anonymous tipsters helped police get an estimated $720,000 worth of drugs off the region’s streets last year alone.
That brought the total value of drugs seized since the 1992 inception of South Okanagan-Similkameen Crime Stoppers program to approximately $14.8 million.
“We must be doing something right,” said Crime Stoppers regional co-ordinator Al Sismey, who’s the only paid staff person in what is otherwise an entirely volunteer-driven organization.
“Hopefully we’ve built a confidence within the public,” he continued. “I always say that probably 90 per cent of this information that we get is information we wouldn’t get if there wasn’t an anonymous method of passing that information on.”
All told in 2014, the local branch of Crime Stoppers received 2,590 calls, which resulted in 312 tips. Those tips, and some from previous years, resulted in 35 arrests and 37 cases cleared by police.
Anonymous tipsters also smoked out 15 fugitives, who were featured in regular most-wanted advertisements, and helped police recover 11 weapons and $13,600 worth of stolen property.
Rewards are paid out based on the quality of information and whether tips lead to an arrest. Last year, the group handed over 11 rewards that totalled $1,950.
Despite the promise of money in some cases, Penticton RCMP spokesman Rick Dellebuur said his experience has shown not all tipsters are motivated by cash.
“Sometimes rewards are paid, but I find most times people do it because they want justice done or want us to know so we can investigate,” he said.
“It’s a very valuable partnership between the community, ourselves and the media in order for us to further investigations.”
Sismey said local call volume to Crime Stoppers decreased by five per cent between 2014 and 2013 for no apparent reason.
“They do go up and down… and often it’s maybe as a result of activity in the area,” he said.
“Usually what I’ll do if I have a major drop in tips is I’ll check the other programs in the valley and often it’s similar. And sometimes provincially it’s similar, too, so it’s hard to put your finger on it.
Drug-related tips are still the most common, Sismey said, followed by calls about fugitives and thefts.
All of the tips are easier to deal with now, he added, thanks to the addition of communication methods such as text message and email that allow him to follow up more easily to ask for pictures or addresses.
“The beauty of the social media, the web tips and the text messages is I can communicate with those people — whereas I can’t on the phone — and I communicate anonymously,” he said.
“I don’t know who they are, their email addresses or anything.”