After spending countless hours getting the territorial citizen’s crime fighting initiative off the ground, Crime Stoppers USVI organizers celebrated the program’s success with a first anniversary party at the Cruz Bay Battery on Wednesday night, January 20.
About 30 people mingled on the Battery deck, enjoyed complimentary hors d’oeuvres from Cactus on the Blue and toasted Crime Stoppers’ success with beverages donated by Prestige Wine Group and Bellows International.
Launched in January 2009, Crime Stoppers USVI is a totally anonymous crime fighting initiative that gives the power to the people, explained Bonny Corbeil, a member of the group’s St. John board.
“People can call the tip line and report what they know without anyone ever knowing that they made the call,” said Corbeil. “This really puts the people in control here, which is why I’ve been so passionate about this program. This takes away the fear of retaliation and gives the people power.”
Once a tip comes in from a citizen, that information is passed along to V.I. Police Department officials who follow up on the lead. During Crime Stoppers USVI’s first year, the group received 503 tips which resulted in 75 arrests, $53,000 worth of recovered stolen property and narcotics and 40 illegal weapons confiscated, according to Judi Fricks, chairperson of the group’s board.
“Getting those guns off the streets is the biggest thing for me,” said Fricks. “Those 40 fewer guns on the street probably mean 40 fewer shootings and homicides. That is huge.”
Crime Stoppers USVI’s success in its first year far surpassed expectations, Fricks added.
“The program exceeded every expectation we were told to expect,” said Fricks. “We were told to expect three to four tips a weeks and we received almost 10 tips each week for the entire year. And we were so successful because of the support we’ve gotten from the community, the media and the police.”
“That is the only way this can be done,” Fricks said. “It’s about all of us who call in tips and donate money and join as dues-paying members and the media who every week run our releases. And a very critical component of the program is law enforcement.”
The local Crime Stoppers group’s numbers were so impressive Crime Stoppers USA board chairman Tom Kern and national board member Tami Lawlor traveled to the territory to join in the celebration last week.
“Getting more than 500 tips in your first year really is amazing,” said Kern. “That really is a great start and it’s a credit to the organizers of Crime Stoppers USVI.”
The existence of Crime Stoppers in the territory is due to the relentless efforts of organizers on each island, including Fricks, Corbeil and Alan Brown, who first conceived of the idea.
“Brown came to a Crime Stoppers USA conference in Texas two years ago and approached me about starting a chapter in the Virgin Islands,” said Kern. “That was two years ago and he never stopped working on this.”
“Alan Brown approached me about this two years ago and it was my intention to introduce him to police officers and say ‘bye, bye,’” said Fricks. “Well, here I am and I’m thrilled to be here celebrating our successful first year.”
If a tip leads to an arrest or the recovery of stolen property, the tipster is eligible for a cash reward. To ensure anonymity, tipsters are given pin numbers after making the first call, which they use to check on the status of their tip later.
The funds for the cash rewards come from dues-paying members and donations from the community. The group is entirely volunteer with little overhead, so most of the funds collected go directly to paying cash rewards.
Memberships are $50 for individuals, $10 for students and $100 for businesses and have been the lifeblood of the program, explained Fricks.
“We really wanted the average citizen to feel like they could make a difference with Crime Stoppers and their membership,” said Fricks. “It was very important to have the community buy into what we were doing. We have 250 memberships across the territory and out of those 108 are from little St. John.”
The small, tight-knit community of St. John makes it an ideal location for a successful Crime Stoppers program, according to VIPD St. John Deputy Chief Darren Foy.
“In the beginning when Crime Stoppers first came to the VIPD, we thought it was a new tool we could use, especially on St. John,” said Foy. “It’s such a small community here, we heard a lot of times that someone knew what happened but didn’t want to talk to the police. Now we can tell them to call Crime Stoppers and these issues are cleared up.”
“The program has helped us police the police also,” said Foy.
Citizens can call Crime Stoppers to report any kind of crime including corruption in government agencies and the police department.
The key to Crime Stoppers USVI’s success is partnership between the citizens, police and media, explained Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis.
“We support Crime Stoppers 110 percent,” said Francis. “The part that is really interesting is the community support. The key to whole thing is the partnership with the community.”
Attendees sang Crimes Stoppers USVI “Happy Birthday” and enjoyed a birthday cake donated by Baked in the Sun.
Crime Stoppers USVI St. John board members are Corbeil, Andy Rutnik, Karen Samuel and Gail-Ann Guy-Felix.
For more information about Crime Stoppers USVI or to donate to the group, check out the website www.crimestoppresusvi.org.