The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce recently saluted the Hamilton Crimestoppers program which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. This writer remembers the beginning vividly. I was a relatively new-ish news director at CHCH when I was called in to boss Doug Gale’s office. There I was introduced to Hamilton’s Police Chief Gordon Torrence and a plainclothes detective Sgt. Jim Willis. They were seeking the station’s support for a new anti-crime initiative called Crimestoppers– a community program that helps people to provide anonymous tips about criminal activity. It operates separately from 911 or other standard methods of contacting police. This allows a person to provide crime-solving assistance to the authorities without being directly involved in the investigation process. They are eligible for a cash reward. The program at that point was only operating in the US.
We agreed on producing a weekly televised re-enactment of a crime, which would end with a plea to call Crimestoppers and we would display the tip line phone number. Our police Liaison was Sgt. Willis. Producer Dave Wilson would supervise the shooting and editing of the vignettes and I would do the voice-over, never dreaming I would do roughly 600 of them before I moved on to the dark side of public relations. Dave designed the graphics and an extro that would end each segment. It consisted of a graphic showing a detective and the Crimestoppers phone number. The detective in the graphic was a stylized image of Sgt, Willis. The last thing you would see and hear was a jail door slamming. We went down to the lockup at the Hamilton Police station to tape the jail door piece.
That was pretty much the format for the next dozen years or so. In the early years several Hamilton Police officers were in charge of the program after Willis—Bob Buck for one and Ken Leendertse who was a fresh-faced new breed of cop then, who went on to become deputy chief. Director Nick Olchowy took over the production of the vignettes, and to this day he is involved with the program, at age 90-something—an incredible run.
During my involvement we started doing Crimestopper re-enactments for police in Halton and Niagara. From there, the program spread across Canada to almost every jurisdiction, But Crimestoppers got its Canadian start right here in Hamilton, with a cell door slamming re-enactment in the basement of the Hamilton police station.
I don’t think any of us believed Crimestoppers would still be operating 40 years after it began, but it has–and it still is providing a useful community service at a time when policing needs every positive link to the community that it can muster.
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