Crimestoppers eyes Asia expansion

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Crimestoppers is seeking to bring its anonymous crime-reporting model to Asia. If, for whatever reason, you can’t speak to the police, Crimestoppers helps you get the vital information to the right people – totally anonymously.

Photo credit: CSI, Martin Cathrae via flickr

In a time of declining trust in law enforcement agencies, Crimestoppers steps up and provides a third party platform for the community to report information that may have disappeared into the void otherwise. Mr Alexander MacDonald and Mr Devrol Dupigny, President and Executive Director of Crimestoppers International respectively, are eager to expand the model in their first trip to Asia.


Q: Please explain how Crimestoppers works. How is it different from what the police do?

Devrol Dupigny (DD): Crimestoppers (CS) is a non-government and individual body that is made up of civilians, law enforcement and media. Its basic purpose is to get information from the community to law-enforcement anonymously. We call it [the operation model] ‘The Triangle’: The media highlight the problem, law enforcement acts on the problem, and the community reports the problem.

Alexander MacDonald (AM): Our reputation worldwide in the last 40 years is the fact that no one has even been identified as a tipster through our system. We are very different to law enforcement hotlines. We guarantee anonymous use of telephone and electronic [reporting]. We can never trace back your information. I was in the business of intelligence gathering in my previous life – there is no such thing as an anonymous Police line. For CS, we adopt the practice of offshore information reporting, so, for example, all telephone lines from the Caribbean are answered in Miami so that the local factor is minimised.

The online platform is a two-way and encrypted dialogue that allow civilians to submit tips that also include documents and photographs. Like all government systems, most of our jurisdictions are targeted [by hackers], but we have an intense network that goes through many sweepers. The system has never been compromised.

DD: Our product basically is a confidential way for the community to report crime. That can work from commercial crime, illicit trade, murder, to simple things like traffic offences.


Q: What do you want to do in Hong Kong?

DD: We would like to develop a CS programme and establish an organisation in Hong Kong. But before doing that, we need to engage with various stakeholders. That will be, going back to the Triangle, the media, the business community and to some extent the wider community, and most importantly with law enforcement.

While we pursuit that intent, it’s also to understand some transnational crimes that are taking place [in Hong Kong], including illicit trade, cyber crime, financial crime and human trafficking.

We feel that Hong Kong is a major city in this area that could benefit from CS. We are here to work with the law enforcement, the community and the business sector to highlight our programme.

AM: There are a number of countries that we are looking at in Asia. Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila are the three main areas that have very similar structures as our other programmes worldwide. The law enforcement is similar, the business community is similar, and the media is similar. So it’s an easy fit for us to come here.

Hong Kong has got the biggest area in respect to illicit trade. Our organisation started off dealing with criminal activities such as murders and drugs. As we develop now, illicit trade has become a major part of our task force as in human trafficking. These two areas are the major concerns to both the governments, NGOs and local communities. We believe that the need for getting more information from the community is developing. As each law enforcement we met gets to know our ability, they promote that as part of their third project, but it is also overseen by civilian bodies.

This is our first trip into Asia, it is an opportunity we could not miss, because crime here is just as bad as anywhere else. Our goal here is to get ourselves moving, to meet business partners and get the programme started here.


Q: How does the CS organisational structure functions?

DD: CS basically segments the world into several regions, and Hong Kong is in the Asia-Pacific region. Each one of the regions designates two to three directors who sit on the international board.

Within the regional structure, you have local or national CS programmes which deal with local media and law enforcement. Then you have regional crimes that take place, and the regional bodies would have relationships with the regional media and such.

Going forward from a global perspective, the CS International enjoys relationship with other global organisations. For example, we recently signed a collaboration with CNN as a unit in the CNN Freedom project. CS International also established a formal relationship with the Interpol in 2010, allowing us to participate in global campaigns and projects with Interpol. As we build up our capacity and relationship with global media, we are able to work with local media to put the messages out on a wider scale.

We currently has programmes in 26 countries, serving a population of 500 million people on the ground.

[Ed note: Crime Stoppers of the United States of America, Inc. (CSUSA – the original CS) split from Crime Stoppers International owing to “differences in leadership and direction.” Crime Stoppers UK, previously served ties with the umbrella organisation, is also a fully independent body now.]

Q: What is your funding model?

DD: We traditionally relied on our programmes for funding, but we have shifted away from that model to look for corporate donations. As a global organisation we need to seek the relevant partnership with the global business community, either by ourselves or through cooperations with other NGOs, and let the community understands what CS does and that they have social corporate responsibility in ensuring that we live in a safer place.


Q: Do you think CS has a role to play in a place with low crime rate like Hong Kong? Do you think the Hong Kong culture will facilitate the CS model?

AM: It may not be the murders as it used to be, but there is still crime. We are very aware of the factor that, in New York for example, crime has gone down massively, but CS is still a major element of information gathering. It doesn’t matter where you are, crime does exist in all of our communities. We are an additional tool of no cost to the local law enforcement. They get information that other agencies would charge for.


Q: Do you think there is a greater role for CS to play given a declining trust in police?

AM: It’s changing for all police force and it’s not just in your part of the world. The police force were able to be a little more on the streets. Law enforcement has its challenges. We hope to be one of the areas to help them on the challenges. There are not as many foot soldiers on the ground, and those are on the ground are not always able to pull in the information and work with the community as they have done in the past. Working with law enforcement, we can develop a partnership with the community for law enforcement from a civilian point of view.

In Trinidad in Southern Caribbean for example, one of our major business partners is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Their boxes have all got the CS’s number and catchline. When it comes to businesses where you can get a message across to the community, we give that community a voice by actually giving them an opportunity to call us.


Q: Have you ever seen a situation where people are using CS to advance their own political agendas?

AM: Our call takers are trained and we have certain standards of what we expect to come in. Every piece of information is important, but you can access the strength of that information by the way it comes in.