Crimestoppers has been an extraordinary success in the UK; I set it up over 20 years ago, have been involved with it ever since and am extremely proud of being the Chairman of the Trustees of a charity that is making a serious impact in the fight against crime in the UK . But my discussions with the police, government and business leaders in New Zealand, looking at the idea of setting up a similar venture here, came about through an unexpected and unplanned direction.
Most will know that I have the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses; I am passionately interested in the bravery behind these medals and have written on the subject. So as soon as I heard that VCs won by New Zealanders had been stolen from the National Army Museum , and knowing what they mean to the military, the families and the nation, I decided that I had to do what I could to help recover them. They have been and the rest of the story is well known in New Zealand and I am delighted that they are back on display for all to see.
It was during my meetings with the Commissioner of Police that we touched on Crimestoppers. He had looked at the concept but not come across an organisational model that he felt would fit the needs of New Zealanders. As a result of our discussions he visited Crimestoppers in the UK and I have recently come out to New Zealand to explain how it works for us in the UK, accompanied by Angela Entwistle, one of my fellow Trustees who has been involved with the charity since it started, and with Michael Laurie, the Chief Executive. We briefed the police executive team, business leaders and senior officials and from these discussions it emerged that here was a concept that could make a significant impact on crime in New Zealand .
What Crimestoppers does is simple; we provide the capability for people to call us with information about crimes and criminals. We then pass the important information on to the police guaranteeing the anonymity of the caller. This means that people who are very close to the criminal, and people who for various reasons do not want to engage with the police directly can pass information to the police in complete safety. In the UK , in 20 years, we have never broken that promise of anonymity. The mechanism that secures this promise is that we are a charity and thus not subject to freedom of information laws, police procedures and, ultimately should the police put us under pressure to reveal the identity of a caller, we can say no. Nobody is our master.
Other advantages of being a charity are that we represent the people, not the state. In the UK we have over 400 volunteers who work at the local level with their local police identifying what is important to the local community. They run local campaigns, projects and initiatives to encourage members of the public to ring in with information about those local crimes, while at the same time, larger national campaigns focus on serious crime. The result is that every month some 600 criminals are arrested and charged as a result of this information and, for example, in London alone over the past year 20% of the murders have been solved as a result of our work.
Another advantage of being a charity is that we can be light on our feet and do things that government cannot; we can use viral marketing, we can be novel and we can respond quickly to an emerging trend.
Our main source of funding comes from the corporate sector where we do far more than just ask for charitable donations. Instead, we work with businesses to identify the crimes that affect their bottom line, or their staff or their customers; there is always some way that we can help and thus the business often gets more out of it than it puts in. In the UK we have worked with retail companies to reduce leakage, with
financial institutions to help them make discoveries about fraud, saving millions of pounds, and with construction companies identifying theft of materials. All these successes help both the companies and the police to fight crime, particularly as many of these will involve criminal networks.
Our relationship with the nascent New Zealand Crimestoppers started with the stolen Kiwi VCs, buts it’s not about them and such events in Crimestoppers are rare. What is normal is the daily satisfaction of helping the police catch serious criminals that otherwise might have got away, and daily making our communities safer.
It is very rewarding to be part of Crimestoppers, either as a volunteer, sponsor or corporate partner and if you are interested keep an eye out for further announcements as I am sure our colleagues in New Zealand will be asking for support.
And if you would like to know more about the Crimestoppers concept, do have a look at the UK ’s website www.crimestoppers-uk.org