When Ernie Dechant tells people he used to be a blood spatter expert in the RCMP, he anticipates the wide eyes and ignorant prodding for his grizzliest crime stories.
Dechant instead chooses to highlight the supportive Greater Victoria community he’s discovering as one of two civilian program co-ordinators for Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers.
“What I love about this job is when you see crimes of a personal nature, the tips come flooding in. The community won’t stand for it,” says Dechant, who moved to Broadmead with his wife last year after spending 21 years with the RCMP.
Crammed into a tiny office in the basement of the Saanich Police Department, Crime Stoppers is once again ramping up in the Capital Region with dedicated civilian staff. (The program was previously run in-house by police officers.)
The two-person team, whose salaries are covered in part by each police department in the region, includes Dechant and fellow co-ordinator Amanda Schenk. After setting up in November, the pair is now on a mission to better inform the community about the unique service.
“Crime Stoppers really is about gathering information, that’s our mandate,” says Schenk, who grew up in Saanich and spent her summers between university working in Saanich police’s records department. “The other part of it is letting people know we’re keeping the community safe.”
The biggest misconception of Crime Stoppers, says Schenk, is that potential tipsters are often afraid they’ll be compelled to identify themselves or testify if a tip proves worthwhile to a police investigation. But that’s just not true.
“We can guarantee your protection by never having your information in the first place,” Dechant says. “There is legislated case law that protects you and the tip information, and we couldn’t identify you even if we were compelled by a court order.”
Every 1-800 call is answered by a 24/7 call centre in Ontario, where it’s screened and then sent to the relevant jurisdiction. If the tip is urgent, anonymous callers are asked to call 911. Incoming phone numbers aren’t recorded.
“In our office, we get tips when we come in in the morning, and begin putting them out to Crime Stoppers liaisons at each police department from there,” Schenk said.
Police liaisons are then responsible for determining whether action is required or if the tip is kept for information only.
After 30 days, Schenk and Dechant follow-up with the police department to determine whether a cash reward of up to $2,000 is appropriate for the tipster.
“We have a tip calculator that assigns points and calculates the reward value based on how much property and drugs were seized and the arrests made. If there’s a risk to the caller, that drives up the reward as well,” Schenk says.
A Crime Stoppers board of directors, made up of volunteer members in the community, must then approve those cash payments. The board is also responsible for fundraising initiatives.
But how does the process remain anonymous when cash is exchanged? It turns out it’s relatively simple, if not a bit cloak and dagger.
Callers are given a code to check back on their tips. Once a payment is arranged, the cash is left at a “busy local organization,” where a tipster can pick it up under a pseudonym at their convenience, Schenk says.
“An important part of the anonymity is we have no way of contacting these tipsters: They can only contact us,” she added. “Sometimes people are eligible for rewards but they never follow-up so they’re never claimed.”
Each week, Dechant and Schenk gather information on at-large criminals and crimes where police needs tips. Through the help of local media – including Saanich News – residents are informed on Victoria’s Most Wanted and Crimes of the Week to garner more tips for police.
Volunteers will soon be needed for the upcoming summer event season, when Crime Stoppers will up their community presence and being spreading the word about how their service makes an impact.
“I was introduced to Crime Stoppers at my first posting in Quesnel, B.C., and I really liked the way the program worked,” says Dechant, who took up various posts in B.C. and in the Northern territories before retiring from the RCMP.
Dechant decided to make the jump into civilian life and move to Greater Victoria after experiencing the best and worst of human behaviour across the country.
“There’s just a different mentality here than there is anywhere else,” Dechant says. “People are laid back, it’s extremely relaxed. … When you’re a police officer, you deal with a lot of negativity. But the best part about this job with Crime Stoppers is the positive community spirit.”
“Crime Stoppers combats the two things that stop people from reporting crime: fear and apathy,” adds Schenk. “We combat those through anonymity and the potential of a cash reward. The result is the community is safer for it.”
For more information or to report a tip anonymously, visit victoriacrimestoppers.com or call 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).