In January, Crimestoppers initiated a new program based on telephone calls to enable individuals to anonymously report criminal activity and situations which are threatening or frightening.
This program, called "Senior B Safe," is not designed as an alternative to 911. If someone is in danger, and they need a police response immediately, 911 is the appropriate number to call.
Senior B Safe is, instead, a method to address activity that has happened in the past or is ongoing, when residents are afraid to call police. The reality is that this fear is very real in many cases, particularly in the African-American community.
I am often asked when speaking about this, why would anyone be afraid to call the police? There are several valid reasons: 1) fear of retaliation by the criminals, if a police car is seen at one's house; 2) a feeling that nothing will result from a call for help because it never has before; 3) pride coupled with confusion or uncertainty; and 4) the fact that many individuals in the African-American community are themselves afraid of the police because of negative encounters in the past and a feeling, consequently, that the whole system can't be trusted.
Senior B Safe can be reached by making a simple telephone call — anonymously or not — and relaying information on the situation which is then passed on to an appropriate bureau in the Memphis Police Department or, in some cases, to Code Enforcement.
At no time is the identity of the caller revealed to anyone. Through a cooperative effort with the Crisis Hot Line, the system can be accessed on a 24-hour basis by calling CRISIS-7 (274-7477) and asking for Senior B Safe. Contact in that case is live and immediate. The system also can be reached by leaving a recorded voicemail at another number: 528-0699.
Either line can be accessed by complainants themselves or by other parties who wish to help, such as family members, pastors, or friends.
As with Crimestoppers, there is no caller ID on these lines, but if callers choose not to leave personal contact information, they must leave enough detailed information so that authorities can act.
We see this program as a means to help a vulnerable segment of our community and to involve citizens in the solution of the crime problems that beset us on a daily basis.
Without citizen involvement and participation, no amount of money, police officers, guns, cars, radios, etc., will ever fully address criminal activity. Failure to report such activity enables the thugs and gangs to operate with impunity, whether this is an intended result or not.
If everyone in this community told us everything they know and was a part of correcting the wrongs that exist, the results for our city would far outshine the best PR effort that anyone could devise.
The same principle applies if everyone over the age of 65 would tell us everything they know about suspicious or threatening activity. Who is more aware of what is going on than an elderly or retired person who is watching and noting everything?
For this to happen, we must overcome feelings of suspicion and distrust in the black community that exist due to a history of both real and perceived disparity in the application and impact of the criminal justice system. We must clearly exhibit by word and deed that we are just as interested in addressing the problems of black victims of crime as we are in arresting black criminals.
To many in our community, these two aims would seem to be mutually inclusive. However, someone who has had a negative encounter with the system as a victim, witness, or bystander, or who feels they have been harassed by individuals in authority or has heard from someone who has, can certainly tell you otherwise.
It is our hope that by helping people to report criminal activity anonymously, they will see and believe that the "system" is their system and will become part of a movement to eliminate crime and to get rid of the criminals who make life difficult for all of us.
E. Winslow "Buddy" Chapman, a former Memphis police director, is executive director of Crimestoppers of Memphis and Shelby County.