Time Magazine has its 'Person of the Year' award. I have my 'Crime Fighter of the Year' award and this year it goes to Greg MacAleese a former Detective with the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department.
This lifetime achievement honor is long overdue because Greg MacAleese has changed the world by making it a safer place to live.
One quiet, snowy afternoon in February 1976 Detective MacAleese sat down at his desk and typed the word CRIME onto a sheet of paper. He had been plagued about the FBI's designation of Albuquerque as the city with the highest crime rate (per capita) in the nation. MacAleese ruminated about what he could do to change that.
His background in journalism taught him how powerful an ally the media could be. His police work had shown him how vital it was for citizens to step forward and tell what they knew so police could solve crimes. But in Albuquerque in the mid-70's the population most affected by crime was scared to death to get involved.
Out of those solitary ruminations sprung MacAleese's idea to get both the public and the media fully invested in crime fighting. He named his brainchild "Crime Stoppers."
The official launch date for Crime Stoppers was September 8, 1976, when MacAleese convinced his superiors to allow him to produce a video re-enactment of a murder and offer a reward for information. A college student named Michael Carmen, two weeks shy of his wedding day, had been gunned down while working at a gas station. No witnesses, no leads. After the re-enactment aired on KOAT-TV, eyewitness information led detectives to two suspects. Within 72 hours they were arrested and tied to a string of armed robberies. MacAleese paid the reward out of his own pocket.
This forward thinking Detective heard many complaints from fellow officers. Some called him "Cecil B. De MacAleese" for his video re-creations. Others on the force openly mistrusted the media and they didn't want to share investigative details with the public for fear of spoiling their court cases. Some wanted to know why citizens should be rewarded for stepping up to do their civic duty. But MacAleese, encouraged by his Police Chief Bob Stover, kept refining his idea, insisting it would bring down the crime rate.
He pushed and cajoled until Crime Stopper segments became a weekly offering on Albuquerque TV, then on radio and finally in the newspaper. It was the perfect partnership of police, media and citizenry that MacAleese had dreamed about that snowy February day. Witnesses to all sorts of crimes began to call in. In the first year 298 cases were closed because of Crime Stopper informants, including 13 homicides and more than 20 rapes.
Crime Stoppers evolved over the years and MacAleese's insistence that witnesses always be guaranteed complete anonymity, coupled with a reward fund of public donations (no taxpayers' dollars) insured the program flourished. Early on Crime Stoppers was touted in the New York Times and on NBC's Today Show and other police departments eagerly started their own branches with similar results.
Today there are Crime Stoppers programs in all 50 states and in 24 countries. MacAleese says in India, for example, they've been especially successful solving banking crimes. In South Africa the program has focused on sex crimes and a huge number of rapes and sex related murders have been solved. All because someone who knew something picked up a phone and made an anonymous report.
Collectively, MacAleese tells me, Crime Stoppers programs have helped solved more than 1 million major crimes and have assisted in the recovery of more than 8 billion dollars worth of stolen property and narcotics. Civilian volunteers have raised millions in reward money and more than 100 million dollars in rewards have been paid out.
Important to note, Greg MacAleese refused to ever trademark the Crime Stoppers idea. He receives no royalties and says his satisfaction comes from seeing his "baby" become the world's most successful anti-crime program in history.
Today, Crime Stoppers keeps pace with technology and generational habits. New computer software has been developed to allow citizens to anonymously transmit their information about crimes via the internet or over mobile phones. The software completely eliminates the tipster's web address or cell phone number as it passes on vital information to investigators.
MacAleese achieved what so many idealists hope for. He got an idea and massaged it into reality. These days, he travels the world training others in the ways of effective law enforcement.
For 32 years Greg MacAleese has made it his life's mission to try make the world safer, to find a way to engage us -- all of us -- toward the common good.
The power of us has achieved remarkable things - Thanks to my personal hero, Greg MacAleese.
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