Welcome to Crime Stoppers’ Corner

It’s Tuesday morning as I write and the digital “front page” of our local daily contains the following stories:

Cape Breton Regional Police investigating stolen vehicle in Sydney Mines

Police investigating two separate property damage incidents at hospice site in Membertou

Cape Breton police asking for help in solving Needs robbery in New Waterford

Cape Breton police seeking help in finding stolen PEI car, rings from Point Aconi

Cape Breton police want help in solving theft of binoculars in Sydney

Police seeking information in solving theft of catalytic converters in Sydney

Each of these stories is marked as “premium” content, meaning, available to subscribers only, and each starts with the same phrase:

Cape Breton Crime Stoppers is seeking help from the public in solving…

I think the first thing to note is what a complete misnomer “Crime Stoppers” is — clearly, the organization is not stopping crime. But the second thing is that, if this is your kind of content, you can save yourself the price of a subscription and go to the Cape Breton Crime Stoppers website (where I went this morning and about which I will have much more to say in a moment).

One of these “stories” from what I’m calling Crime Stoppers’ Corner sparked an actual story — “Cape Breton Regional Police investigating spike in the theft of catalytic converters” — illustrated by a “contributed” photo that looks like it was “contributed” by the thief, although I realize this is unlikely:

Post "contributed" photo of catalytic converters

In addition to all the local crime, the Post digital edition also features, for no reason that I can fathom, this story:

Police seek witnesses to serious collision at Hazeldean Road and Irwin Gate

That would be OTTAWA police.

My theory about this heavy rotation of Crime Stoppers stories is that SaltWire, in a full-page, February 27th letter to its “Members” committed to increasing local coverage to “more than 700 stories, features and columns each week.” (“Members” is what it calls subscribers because it apparently views itself as more of a service club than a newspaper chain. I’m really hoping this means we all get fezzes.)

Six stories lifted from the Cape Breton Crime Stoppers web site = 6 local stories, the only investment being the time it takes to cut and paste them.

Although I have to think SaltWire “members” can see this for what it is.

Now, about that Crime Stoppers website…


Grand larceny

Behold, the Crime Stoppers motto:

MLK quote on Crime Stoppers web site

Where to begin?

Perhaps with Snopes, the fact-checking website, which explains that while Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t actually say this, the phrase “captures an essential point King was trying to make” during a sermon in Selma, Alabama, on 8 March 1965, the day after civil rights protesters were attacked and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge:

Deep down in our non-violent creed is the conviction there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for. And if a man happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the door of his life — some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right. A man might be afraid his home will get bombed, or he’s afraid that he will lose his job, or he’s afraid that he will get shot, or beat down by state troopers, and he may go on and live until he’s 80. He’s just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80. The cessation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died …

A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.

So we’re going to stand up amid horses. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama, amid the billy-clubs. We’re going to stand up right here in Alabama amid police dogs, if they have them. We’re going to stand up amid tear gas! We’re going to stand up amid anything they can muster up, letting the world know that we are determined to be free!

To summarize, Cape Breton Crime Stoppers has stolen MLK’s call for courage in the face of police brutality and turned it into a call to help police find stolen catalytic converters.

That is some high-grade larceny.



The website helpfully explains that Cape Breton Crime Stoppers is “a community involvement program that offers anonymous tipsters cash awards,” although how you can remain anonymous while collecting a cash reward is not really explained. (Rewards are “distributed in a private manner to the callers.”) The organization is a “partnership between the public, the police, and the media”:

The public are volunteers from parts of Cape Breton Island who oversee the administration of the day to day operations of the program. The police receive and investigate the tipster’s information. The media’s role is to promote Crime Stoppers in our local area and ensure Crime Stoppers stays in the public domain.

I must admit, as part of the “media,” I have been falling down on my part in this bargain, although the Post has been picking up the slack and Crime Stoppers’ partnership with the police seems to be just dandy — the group lists its address as 865 Grand Lake Road, the Central Division Police Station.

No names appear on the Crime Stoppers site, but the Joint Stocks Registry lists the board of the Crime Stoppers Association of Cape Breton as Jason Tynski (chairman), Charlotte Boone (treasurer), Phyllis Frost (secretary), Betty Boudreau, Bettina Rowe, Anne Savoy, Brenda Younger, Ruby Munroe and Sharon Brookman. (This all-female board/male chair structure cries out for deeper analysis, but I’m a journalist, not a sociologist).

Crime Stoppers says it is funded by private donations and fundraising and I vaguely remembered some controversy about this fundraising and sure enough, it’s addressed on the site:

Previously Crime Stoppers shared a fund raising project with another program that involved soliciting funds by a telemarketer. This has since been rejected by Cape Breton Crime Stoppers membership on the moral grounds that the bigger, share of the funds were reaped by the telemarketer.

The organization is adamant that “NO TAX DOLLARS are involved” in its funding (probably because our local police force is already consuming $27 million in public funds each year) although elsewhere on the site it states “Some funding is provided by CBRM.” (Do they not realize funding from the CBRM = “tax dollars?”)

As for whether or not Crime Stoppers, which has been around since 1987, is successful, it provides two sets of data, but these numbers — current as of 30 September 2020 — seem to be the most up-to-date:

Cape Breton Crime Stoppers Stats

I would really need to know more about these statistics to understand their value — or lack thereof. How many calls do they receive? Of those calls, how many produce useful information? Of the arrests noted, how many led to convictions?  How do they decide whether a tip from Crime Stoppers has been key in solving a case?

(There doesn’t seem to be much research out there into the effectiveness of Crime Stoppers, but a 2003 UK study concluded that of the almost 500,000 calls received by “Crimestoppers” in 2000, 1% provided information leading to an arrest or charge. The study didn’t say what percentage of these arrests or charges led to convictions.)

But even if we let the Cape Breton Crime Stoppers numbers stand unchallenged, the next bit suggests even they aren’t entirely persuaded by their stats:

The success of a Crime Stoppers program cannot be purely judged on statistics, however, other benefits have come to notice [sic]:

  • A greater awareness in the community that there is a crime problem.
  • A willingness by the community to fight back against crime if it is given the opportunity and motivation.
  • Improved relationships between police, media, and the community.

That is truly messed up. “Never mind whether we have any statistics proving we help solve crimes, just look at all the people who think we have a ‘crime problem’ even though crime rates have been declining literally everywhere in the Western world for the past 40 years.”

And what does it mean for the community to be willing to “fight back against crime if it is given the opportunity and motivation?” That sounds like straight-up vigilantism. (And if that’s not how it’s supposed to sound, then Crime Stoppers needs a new copywriter.)

As for the idea that we need “improved” relations between police and media — relations in which the role of the media is first and foremost to assist the police — it is so wrongheaded it could only have come from people who think that were MLK alive today, he’d be encouraging his followers to phone the Crime Stoppers tip line.


In brief

I’m going to take you on a Cook’s tour of the bulk of the website before focusing on the most interesting section — the “history” section — which, as you’ll see, is more interesting for what it leaves out than what it contains.

The Crime Stoppers website has a feature called “Local Crime Busters” where it provides brief bios of the three men who have headed the Cape Breton Regional Police Services (CBRPS) since its formation, post amalgamation.,

It also has:

A “Missing Persons” section with no entries.

A “Crime of the Week” section with no entry.

An “Unsolved Crimes” section where you’ll find all the incidents reported by the Post (none of which, I guess, rose to the level of “Crime of the Week”)

A “Major Crime Files” section that lists the murder of Amber Kirwan, for which a man was convicted and sent to prison in 2014, and the murder of Buster Slaunwhite, for which a man was convicted and sent to prison in 2018 as “unsolved.”

A “Wanted Suspects” section with no entries.

An “External Links” section in need of weeding. Some links — including those to an RCMP “Computer Scams” site and a site about the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots and an “America’s Most Wanted” site — are dead while my web browser (ironically) identified another (labeled “Crime Reports”) as a potential security risk.

The website has information about family violence, a link to the SOS Children’s Safety Magazine, a warning about identity theft and a list of emergency phone numbers. It also has two sections — “Admin” and “Private Area” — I could not access as they are not open to the public.



The “History” section of the website doesn’t recount the history of the local Crime Stoppers chapter — founded, as noted, in 1987 — but rather, the history of the original Crime Stoppers chapter, founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1976.

Greg MacAleese

Greg MacAleese

The father of Crime Stoppers is Greg MacAleese, an Albuquerque police detective who was born in Picton, Ontario in 1947, but grew up in New Mexico where he earned a journalism degree and, according to this 2016 Toronto Sun article, became a sports reporter. (No wonder the organization he founded sees a natural affinity between reporters and cops — he’s a reporter who became a cop! Or as he told the Sun, a reporter who “chose less stressful work.”)

As a police detective, MacAleese had come to the conclusion that people did not assist the police in their investigations for two reasons — fear and apathy. The fear element, he thought, could be overcome by allowing people to share information anonymously. As for the apathy, his answer was to offer rewards.

He got a chance to test his theories in 1976, while investigating a fatal shooting at a gas station to which there were no witnesses. He hit upon the idea of broadcasting a re-enactment of the crime and offering $1,000 to anyone who could provide information leading to an arrest. According to the Cape Breton Crime Stoppers website (which omits any reference to the reward money):

MacAleese[‘s] plan to identify those responsible for killing Carmen worked. Within a few hours after the recreation of the murder was broadcast on television station KOAT, he received a phone call. The video image had triggered the memory of a person who heard a loud bang in the vicinity of the gas bar and then saw a car driving off. The caller told MacAleese the vehicle belonged to a resident in a nearby apartment complex.

Through investigation MacAleese and a team of detectives arrested two men within 72 hours and charged them with the murder of Carmen and a string of armed robberies.

The official Crime Stoppers version of the story ends there, but the Sun finishes it:

Fatefully, only the getaway driver was imprisoned.

Two patrol officers seized [Thomas Charles] Boone’s shotgun without a warrant and jurors disbelieved two felons who insisted he’d confessed to them.

So, police error and unconvincing witnesses sank the case against the key suspect and yet, from that dubious beginning, Crime Stoppers was born. The organization spread rapidly across North America, reaching Canada in 1982, when the Calgary chapter was founded.



It occurred to me that an organization founded by a cop and that sees itself in “partnership” with cops would be unlikely to sound an alarm when the cops are the wrongdoers — and that was before I learned anything about the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), where MacAleese served until 1979. My reading in this area has been most enlightening.

While histories of Crime Stoppers stress Albuquerque’s high 1970s crime rates, they don’t mention the city also had problems with its police. In 1976, the very year MacAleese was investigating the gas station murder, another APD officer, Robert Davis, was fired when he came under investigation for “burglarizing the homes of burglary suspects he arrested.”

In April 1982, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Davis and four other ex-APD officers had “admitted taking part in hundreds of robberies, burglaries and auto thefts during a five-year six-state crime spree.” (Elsewhere the paper calls it “2,000-felony spree.”)

Albuquerque Journal headlines

Albuquerque Journal headlines (Source: Albuquerque Journal)

Davis was eventually sentenced to 69 and 1/2 years in prison, but:

…went on to escape from a medium security prison in Los Lunas. Two years later, he escaped a maximum security prison in Santa Fe before being transferred to an out-of-state facility.

At one point he was accidentally released to a halfway house (he was returned to prison) and in 2003, he was charged in connection with a burglary at a Post Office and plead guilty to assisting the burglars from his cell.

But according to a civil lawsuit filed against the City of Albuquerque in 2016, Davis and one of those fellow officers, Todd Hobson, were up to more than burglary. According to the Albuquerque Journal:

Nearly 40 years after Jose Farfan disappeared, his family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city, claiming that two rogue Albuquerque police detectives involved in a burglary ring in the late 1970s also killed Farfan and the city appeared to cover it up.

The suit also says then-officers Robert Earl Davis and Robert Todd Hobson were suspects in two other slayings.

One of those other two slayings took place in 1979.

APD cold case investigator Rich Lewis started looking into Farfan’s case in 2008, but he found that “evidence of the crime had gone missing,” according to the complaint.

The City eventually settled the case for $90,000.

But the portrait that emerges of the APD in the 1970s — MacAleese’s APD — is disturbing and so I started looking further into it and discovered this July 2020 High Country article about the APD’s longstanding flirtation with “right wing vigilantism,” which the author, Kalen Goodluck, traced to the civil rights era:

Police brutality and political repression flourished in Albuquerque throughout the civil rights movement. A 1974 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights documented an array of alleged abuses and found that police in Albuquerque and across the state used unconstitutional and at times violent, even deadly, methods when policing minority neighborhoods and political dissidents, including the Chicano groups Alianza Federal de Mercedes and the Black Berets.

I’ve only had time to skim the report, but it’s not difficult to get the gist:

Complaints about police activity made to the State Advisory Committee fall into four basic categories: lack of sensitivity to the community on the part of the police, patterns of practice which constitute harassment, invasion of privacy, and the use of excessive force.

That report came out just two years before MacAleese began wondering why people in Albuquerque didn’t assist the police in their investigations.

And if you’re wondering if things have improved in the years since MacAleese left the force, the short answer is “no.”


Excessive force

In 2014, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a civil investigation of the APD and  found that:

…the Albuquerque Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force, including deadly force. The pattern and practice is the result of serious systemic deficiencies in policy, training, supervision and accountability. The police department’s failure to ensure that officers respect the Constitution undermines public trust. Constitutional policing increases the public’s trust, ensures safety, and respects the rights of the city’s residents.

In particular, the report noted:

Encounters between Albuquerque Police officers and persons with mental illness and in crisis too frequently result in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary.

This 2015 Al Jazeera report explains that between 2010 and 2015, APD officers shot 40 people — 27 fatally — and draws a line between those shootings and a 2007 decision to relax the qualifications necessary to join the force.

Logo from The MacAleese Files

Logo from Greg MacAleese’s blog The MacAleese Files

And that High Country article cited above argues that the APD continues to flirt with radical, right-wing vigilantism, citing examples from #BLM protests in the summer of 2020. After a protester was shot by a militiaman at a June 16 protest, the APD tweeted:

Which brings me back to MacAleese, who can now be found on his own website (The MacAleese Files) and on social media defending cops at every turn and condemning what he calls the “false narratives” driving the #BLM movement. Here he is in a 26 June 2020 interview in which he’s asked about the killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police — a killing which would have taken place just days earlier, on June 12. Brooks, you probably recall, was the African American man who’d fallen asleep in his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru. According to the New York Times account of the killing, the cops were called and:

After 40 minutes of calm questioning and guided sobriety tests, the encounter veered abruptly toward violence when the officers moved to arrest Mr. Brooks. Mr. Brooks hit one of the officers, grabbed the other’s Taser, fired it and took off running. One of the officers, Garrett Rolfe, discharged his own Taser and reached for his 9-millimeter Glock handgun as Mr. Brooks turned and discharged the stolen Taser again. Mr. Rolfe fired, striking Mr. Brooks twice in the back.

MacAleese (who, to his credit, does call for more supports for people with mental illness and says police are now expected to deal with situations that, previously, would not have been considered their responsibility) says:

The Rayshard Brooks situation, that to me is a situation where as soon as he turned with the stolen taser and fired the taser at the officer, he was bought and paid for. The officer had every justification to shoot him. And I would have. I can guarantee you I…probably woulda emptied my revolver.

MacAleese also expresses the hope that by the November US elections, people will have had a “bellyful” of “outfits” like #BLM “demonizing” police and will vote for politicians who uphold law and order.



In conclusion

At the end of every article, SaltWire asks its “members” a question:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?

In the case of those Crime Stoppers stories, the answer is is “sort of;” meaning, the stories themselves did nothing to inform or enhance my perspective on the subject of Crime Stoppers, but the research they inspired certainly did. I always found there was a touch of vigilantism about the group and digging into the history of its founder and of the police force that formed him, I realize there was something to my suspicion.

It’s also informed and enhanced my perspective on 21st century journalism and made me realize I would rather be the person spending two days exploring the history of Crime Stoppers than the person cutting and pasting Crime Stoppers stories into the newspaper to meet my quota for “local” content.

And for that luxury, I have you to thank, subscribers.