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Flint, MI– Crime Stoppers of Flint & Genesee County has received an international award for their use of technology to help solve local crimes.
The organization’s use of location-based advertising and public service announcements made it the winner of the 2021 Crime Stoppers International Digital Media Award in the category for programs serving 300,000 to 1 million people.
“We are thrilled to have received this award. Our partnership with OUTFRONT has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the community through billboards and now through mobile devices,” said Crime Stoppers Director Julie Lopez in a press release.
In 2019, Flint and Genesee County became the first Crime Stoppers program in the country to utilize “geo-fencing” technology with OUTFRONT, an outdoor media company.
If a person is connected to their mobile device and using an app or a website connected to OUTFRONT, and within a two-mile radius of where an unsolved crime took place, they will receive an advertisement on their phone about the unsolved case.
“Do you know who killed me?” reads one advertisement, with a photo, name, and date of death of a victim of an unsolved homicide.
Clicking on the ad takes the individual to a landing page with more information about the specific crime, and a button that would allow them to leave an anonymous tip.
This project earned the program national recognition, and now international recognition too.
According to Lopez, there were more than one million mobile device advertisement “impressions,” or views, in the targeted areas in 2020. Additionally, OUTFRONT reported that the program in Flint came in above their benchmarks for clicks and engagement.
“So that is telling us that people are definitely engaging,” Lopez said.
Since 2014, Crime Stoppers of Flint & Genesee County has received more than 4,200 tips. Of those tips, 249 were successful, meaning they helped lead to a felony arrest. She said these successful tips helped law enforcement solve homicides, assaults, weapons crimes, drug crimes, and more.
Crime Stoppers Flint & Genesee County receives between 500 and 600 tips every year, Lopez said. There were 513 tips received in 2019, and that number went up to 585 in 2020. Lopez said 2021 is on track to have even more.
While it’s ideal for people to go directly to the police with information about unsolved crimes, Lopez said there are many reasons why people might be afraid to do so.
Police Chief Terence Green has talked about how the fear of “snitching” holds people back from giving information to the police. With Crime Stoppers, tipsters have the incentive of being anonymous, but they also have the incentive of getting rewarded with cash for a successful tip.
“So we look at it as whatever it’s going to take to get that information. Number one, to help the families so that they have the answers that they need so they can move on with their grieving process, and number two, so it helps the detectives,” Lopez said. “So if you think about helping the detectives, that cuts down their investigative time…they want to solve crime. They want to help the families. And they need the community to help out.”
Lopez said as soon as she was presented with the opportunity to use geo-fencing technology to get their unsolved crimes public service announcements directly to people, she jumped on it.
“I was like, ‘are you kidding me? Can we do this? Yes. Yes,’” Lopez said.
To implement the new technology, Crime Stoppers of Flint & Genesee County used funding from the Ruth Mott Foundation for the North Flint Project, and corporate and individual sponsors. The program was able to access more mobile ads/geo-fencing through the Hamilton Community Health Network Illuminating Community Change Safety Project.
The Crime Stoppers USA Chair, Chris Cameron, said Lopez has been “a real leader in the field” for pursuing geo-fencing technology, and finding grant funding for this innovative project.
“Crime Stoppers of Flint and Genesee County has done an outstanding job. They’re a great Crime Stoppers program, and this is just a feather in their cap to prove to everyone there, and across the world, that they are leaders,” Cameron said. “And they’re somebody that the other programs can tap into to get help and support. It’s a wonderful designation for them, and a wonderful award.”