The 80s were a different time, in many ways. Bob Saget was starring in a wholesome family sitcom, Motley Crue was on top of the world — and Crime Stoppers was producing gruesome depictions of stranglings in Hamilton.
Cheeky web-magazine Slate dug up this gem of a YouTube clip from early days of Crime Stoppers — an organization that encourages people to anonymously share information about crimes with local police in exchange for a small reward.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more over the top crime-reenactment video than this.
“This is the city of Hamilton. The entire region of Hamilton-Wentworth has a total population of about 450,000 people. A safe region, by Canadian standards. But, realistically, we do have our share of crime," says narrator Jim Willis, a longtime detective with Hamilton Police, who liaised with the original Crime Stoppers team back in the 80s when Hamilton became the first Ontario city to create such a unit. Crime Stoppers pioneered the use of televised crime reenactments to encourage people to offer tips.
'We just made them as believable as possible.' - Jim Willis, retired Hamilton Police Det Staff Sgt.
He narrates the video, “as ominous music plays and we cut to a scene of a hoodlum savagely garroting a woman to death, then carrying the body into a dark basement,” writes Slate writer Justin Peters, tongue planted firmly in cheek. What follows is over 15 minutes of reenactments that feature guns, beatings, and enough fake blood to make a professional wrestler blush.
It also warns of "an active element in our society that would rather rob, rape, steal and kill than lead normal productive lives."
The video says the city has a homicide or attempted homicide every two weeks, and a robbery — often armed — every 1.4 days.
“The quality of the reenactments is not near the quality that they used to be,” Willis told CBC Hamilton, when reached by phone in eastern Ontario in between cutting his hedges. “It’s just not there anymore.”
“I’d just get actors and actresses from the community — some professional, and some not. We just made them as believable as possible.”
Willis isn’t sure why today’s reenactment videos are so tame by comparison. “I guess society would have to answer that,” he said.
Current Crime Stoppers board administrator Tricia Hoban was at least a little aghast when she watched the old-school video. “Now when I watch it, I think ‘Oh my god, we can’t do that,” she told CBC Hamilton.
She did, however, exalt the virtues of the internet, and how much it helps the organization today. “It can be a blessing,” she said. “We’re hitting a wider audience.”
The Hamilton version of Crime Stoppers launched in May 1983 and has been tracking results on a monthly and yearly basis ever since. The Crime Stoppers board approves a cash reward when a tip or tips result in the clearance of a case or an arrest.
The organization attributes 108 criminal arrests to tips in 2013 alone, with 5,157 since 1983.
For anyone wondering — these reenactments are still going strong, some three decades later. Now they feature Det. Const. Greg Slack. Have a look at this one, describing an assault at a McDonalds in Hamilton from a few months ago: