Calgary Crime Stoppers face dwindling donations as gun violence increases in city

Calgary’s Crime Stoppers chapter president says the organization is struggling after years of dwindling donations, just as support is needed more than ever.

The charity allows Calgarians to anonymously provide police with information and advice about crimes or potential crimes via a tip line, with the promise of a reward of up to $2,000 for information leading to a arrest.

But the pandemic and a slow decline in donations in the years leading up to it have taken their toll on the charity, which relies on public and private sector donations to keep it running.

“Right now, funding is very scarce,” said Sudeep Bhargava, president of Calgary Crime Stoppers.

“Over the past few years, it’s been very difficult for us to survive. Over the past five to seven years, we’ve seen a decline and we can’t attribute the reason.”

The organization is funded by public donations, casinos and partnerships with Calgary businesses. The charity had a paid executive director until four years ago, but that position was cut to save money. It is now run entirely by volunteers with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) and the RCMP as partners. The CPS provides space for a call centre, which is staffed by volunteers and police staff.

Calgary has recently seen an increase in shootings, although police say the majority of these incidents are unrelated to organized crime.

Long-term solution needed

There has been some good news for Crime Stoppers in recent months. In May, the provincial government announced $850,000 in funding for Crime Stoppers chapters across Alberta over the next three years.

Last week, Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro also announced $5.2 million in grants for crime prevention and life safety programs. Eligible groups have until the end of September to apply for this funding.

“There has never been government funding and we have been trying for several years – provincial funding and federal funding,” Bhargava said.

“It came to nothing until very recently and luckily we were able to get funding for the whole province, rather than just urban areas.”

But Bhargava said provincial funding is not a long-term solution for Calgary, and the organization must try to secure other donations to better secure its future.

A man re-enacts a home invasion in Calgary for Crime Stoppers. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

“Our corporate partners have supported us very well in the past. And now we hear that crime is increasing more and more. Shootings, stolen vehicles, B&E – all of this happens and we work with minimal funds and no staff,” Bhargava said.

“We have a small reserve that we set aside for rainy days, and we have dipped into it. But it won’t last more than five years.”

Private, public and government funding

Doug King, a professor of legal studies at Mount Royal University, served on the board of Crime Stoppers about 20 years ago. He said the organization plays a valuable role that benefits the city when it comes to fighting crime.

“It really provides a useful service to the criminal justice system. Some people would prefer to remain anonymous while giving information to the police,” he said.

King said if Crime Stoppers were ever to go bankrupt, that avenue of anonymous whistleblowing would be lost.

“It leads to solved crimes that never would have been solved before, so it would be tragic if Crime Stoppers couldn’t work,” he said.

King said Crime Stoppers also protects people from victimization when it comes to reporting crimes, such as domestic violence. But he doesn’t think the government should fund organizations like Crime Stoppers.

“The primary source of funding should come from the private sector and private donations, as it is an expression of goodwill and good community service for organizations that have lots of money. It doesn’t take much to run Crime Stoppers.”

Government funding can change over time or even disappear, King said, leaving organizations that rely on it financially exposed.

“Crime Stoppers needs to build a very positive relationship with private industry. They’ve done that before and they just need to work harder,” King said.

Bhargava said Crime Stoppers Calgary plans to launch a campaign next year to try to attract more business partners and donations and reverse the downward trend.

In the meantime, Bhargava said funding from the provincial government is a lifeline for the organization.

Mark M. Gagnon