So far, crime boxes a bust as police tool

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Crime Block drop boxes make it easy for Fairmont, Red Springs and Rowland residents to anonymously report criminals and pending crimes to law enforcement authorities. But not all of them have met with expected success.
Fairmont has seven of the boxes and Red Springs one. Rowland put three into service in the past 10 days. The boxes are kept locked all of the time.
Fairmont Police Chief Sam Hunt says that, in the year his department has used the boxes, they have not led to solved crimes.
Six of the seven Crime Block drop boxes in Fairmont are located throughout the 100 Fairmont Housing Authority apartments.
Sandy Smith, executive director of the Fairmont Housing Authority, said the boxes are checked on a daily basis -- by the housing authority during the week and by the Fairmont Police Department over the weekend.
Smith said the authority has received tips on crimes inside and outside the housing authority communities, and that a Fairmont police officer found marijuana in one box. A brochure is available at each box to inform people about the housing authority and how to report a crime tip. Smith said the brochures and boxes were paid for through a state drug elimination grant.
“We tried to make them convenient by putting them at the office and throughout the communities,” Smith said. “People may not feel comfortable putting them in their own community but might at the office.”
Boxes too visible?
Hunt said he has been talking with the housing authority about switching the locations of the boxes in hopes that they might be more successful in new locations. Perhaps, he said, the boxes are too visible.
“We haven't really gotten the response from the public that we were hoping for,” Hunt said. “The major problem is residents don't want to be seen putting tips in the boxes, because right now they're pretty visible.”
Hunt said the town recently bought a seventh box, which is a mobile Crime Block drop box that can be easily moved from one location to another. When the box is ready, it will initially be placed at Fairmont Middle School, he said.
The town of Fairmont, using drug-seizure money received from the state, spent $250 on the new box, Hunt said.
“I believe that they can work if we can just get the community to use them,” Hunt said. “It's a good concept.”
Rowland Police Chief Daniel Bradsher said that town's three mobile drop boxes were placed at Food Pride, Minute Stop and Rowland Middle School. He said that brochures at the boxes explain how to give tips about crimes. The brochures have space on them for people to put their tips.
But, Bradsher said, people don't have to write the information on the brochures. He said they are welcome to put any information on their own paper or by any means they want.
Periodically moved
The boxes are checked once a week, Bradsher said. He said they will be moved around periodically.
Bradsher said the town of Rowland spent $750 on the boxes, $250 each. He said the boxes have to be inside a building to prevent vandalism. Rowland has had two of the boxes since Nov. 15 and Rowland Middle School received its box Friday.
“It gives the citizens an outlet to communicate with police about a crime that is going to happen or that has already occurred, and will hopefully make our community safer,” Bradsher said.
According to Betty Deese, the public housing manager for the Robeson County Housing Authority office in Red Springs, the drop box outside the authority's office does get some tips but that people often give tips to the Red Springs Police Department.
Deese said the box, which the housing authority has had for a year, cost about $250. She said it was paid for through a drug elimination grant.
“I think the residents feel comfortable putting things in it, but they also feel comfortable talking to Officer (Ronnie) Patterson at Red Springs Police Department,” she said.
According to the founder and president, Larry Williams, the Crime Block organization was started in 1993 to “empower” schools and neighborhoods to become more actively involved in reporting crimes.
“We would like to see this program circulated throughout all of North Carolina, especially in the schools,” Williams said.