Nfld. & Labrador

Crime Stoppers posters torn down amid backlash against campaign

A Crime Stoppers poster campaign is creating a false impression of the safety of downtown St. John's, says business owner Bob Hallett.

Posters around the city vandalized after residents and business owners criticize messages

St. John's business owner Bob Hallett says a downtown campaign by Crime Stoppers presents a false and damaging impression of the area. (CBC)

Blowback against a Crime Stoppers poster campaign in downtown St. John's has led to complaints to various councillors and the speedy tear-down of many of the signs — sometimes with the encouragement of local businesses — just days after they were put up.

Critics of the campaign, which highlights anonymous tips provided to Crime Stoppers, say it promotes a negative and inaccurate view of the city's downtown at the start of the busy tourist season.

The campaign leaves the false impression that the city's downtown is a "den of iniquity," said Bob Hallett, who owns Erin's Pub on Water Street.

"This is the start of tourism season. We're starting to see tourists from all over the world come here," Hallett said, "and they're seeing black signs talking about this crime wave that doesn't even exist?"

The black and white posters, which don't have any official Crime Stoppers branding on them, create the impression that people should be terrified to walk around the city's downtown area, Hallett said.

"They send an absolutely dreadful message about crime in downtown St. John's, which, based on the statistics, is no worse than crime in any other part of the city or the province."

In 2017, the province's crime severity index saw the country's largest decrease at nine per cent overall, and 15 per cent in St. John's, from the previous year, according to Statistics Canada. The community in the province with the highest crime rate for that year, the most recent available, was Sheshatshiu, though that town's crime rate was down more than 18 per cent compared with 2016.

'There should have been greater outreach'

Several other St. John's residents and business owners expressed their displeasure about the posters on social media in the days following their appearance downtown. 

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary said in a tweet that though the city council allowed an exemption to the sign bylaw to allow for the temporary posters in the heritage area downtown, it didn't approve the content or messaging of the Crime Stoppers campaign.

O'Leary added that complaints about the poster campaign should be directed to Crime Stoppers.

Some commenters asked why city council would exempt the poster campaign without knowing the details of its contents, and wondered about the effectiveness of a campaign that is not clearly connected to Crime Stoppers.

Mayor Danny Breen said the campaign needed greater public consultation by Crime Stoppers ahead of its implementation.

"When you have a bold campaign like this, I think there should have been greater outreach to the public to get their feedback on it and then see if it is an appropriate campaign," Breen said.

Breen, who voted in favour of providing the exception, said he did so because the organization does work that he has traditionally supported. He said he doesn't regret giving them approval to work outside the city's heritage sign bylaw but wishes there had been more work done to ensure the campaign would be an effective one for Crime Stoppers.

"I think that this issue has probably taken away from what is a very genuine need to address certain issues by Crime Stoppers, which does great work in our community," said Breen, who said he is discussing the issue with the organization.

In the meantime, most of the signs that were put up on telephone poles and concrete walls in the city's downtown area have since been torn down, Hallett said.

"You'd have to look hard to find them now."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go and The St. John's Morning Show

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