St. John's businesses caught off guard by planned Crime Stoppers poster campaign
'Operation Anonymous' intended to highlight anonymity but some businesses worry it makes downtown look unsafe
A planned Crime Stoppers campaign for downtown St. John's aims to assure potential tipsters of anonymity, but some shop owners are concerned it will be bad for business.
"Operation Anonymous" is intended to reassure people that they can report suspicious activity without revealing their identities, according to information included in the agenda for St. John's city council's weekly public meeting Tuesday, published online last week.
"Since 1976, Crime Stoppers around the world has been anonymous. Not one person has ever been outed, named, or credited when providing tips. Not one. Ever," says the information.
As part of a campaign for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week, which starts May 27, Crime Stoppers plans to put up posters detailing some of the anonymous tips the group has received anonymously over the years on as many as 70 buildings downtown.
"The time was 9:07 p.m. He staggered out of the pub wearing a black coat. He got behind the wheel," reads a proposed poster to go up near George Street.
Concerns about perception
Some downtown business operators who spoke to CBC had reservations about the proposed campaign.
Posie Row manager Jane Manuel said it's not a bad thing to raise awareness about Crime Stoppers, but she's concerned about another possible effect.
"I would worry that they might portray the downtown or make a connection in people's minds to suggest that the downtown is somehow unsafe, or something like that, which it's really not," said Manuel.
"I think we have actually a very good record downtown of being a very safe place to live, work, play, and the presence of Crime Stoppers adds to that."
Vanessa MacWhirter, who runs Green Valley Wellness, also said Crime Stoppers is a useful tool in keeping downtown safe, but added she hopes the posters don't give people, including tourists, the impression that the crime rate is worse than it is.
"I think it may have a negative impact," she said.
No consultation, no comment
The information published in the city council agenda says that "due to tight timelines" the Downtown Development Commission was not consulted. The report also included a recommendation from city staff that "council grant the request of the Newfoundland and Labrador Crime Stoppers Association and allow the temporary placement of the signs."
A Crime Stoppers representative told CBC the organization would not comment on the project right now but did say the plan had been to put the posters up and leave people wondering where they came from, until details of the project were posted online by the City of St. John's last week.
After Crime Stoppers spoke with city of St. John's officials Tuesday, a City of St. John's spokesperson said the Operation Anonymous details were removed from the agenda, and council did not discuss the program at its public meeting Tuesday evening.