Silent Observer: Keeping Our Neighborhoods Safe
With the holiday season upon us, there is no better way to end the year than by giving back. There are many great nonprofit organizations doing impactful work in our community, and no shortage of opportunities to get involved.
One of these great organizations is Silent Observer. Silent Observer is a community program that helps reduce the amount of violence and crime in our neighborhoods by offering individuals an anonymous way to report information about wrongful acts or suspicious activity.
Step Up to Stop Crime
We sat down with Chris Cameron, Program Director of Silent Observer, to learn more about how individuals can step up to stop crime.
“We have a great community where people want to help,” Cameron said. “They want to do their part to keep their families and community safe, but sometimes they are afraid to get involved with the criminal justice system. Silent Observer gives them the option of providing information completely anonymously.”
Since 2001, Silent Observer has received 63,000 tips. These tips led to nearly 3,500 arrests and more than 4,000 cases cleared. Crimes solved range from homicides, armed robberies, and sexual assaults.
When the program began, it was known that in order to keep informants anonymous, it must not be affiliated with any police agency, but rather it had to be a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit organization. By law, Silent Observer’s records are protected from subpoena unless the information would clear a defendant of guilt.
“The guarantee of anonymity is the most important element of Silent Observer and Crime Stoppers programs,” said Cameron. “It is what makes our program a vital tool in obtaining leads to assist investigators in solving crime.”
When a tip leads to a successful arrest, the ‘tipster’ is eligible for a reward of up to $2,500. The amount of the reward is based on the severity of the crime and how important the tip was to police. Contrary to what many think, this funding comes solely from Silent Observer, not the police department. Since 2001, Silent Observer has given out $647,900 in rewards.
Safety in Schools
Twenty years ago, Silent Observer also started a campus program, allowing students to anonymously report safety concerns at school.
These tips have led to the prevention of a variety of issues – from weapons at school, child pornography, drug abuse and more. In the last year alone, tips came in about four different middle schoolers contemplating suicide. Within an hour of receiving these tips, the students were given the help they needed.
“It’s been a really great program. We’ve seen kids use the tip line to help their friends,” Cameron said. “Whether it’s a tip saying a friend has been sexual assaulted, because the victim is afraid to speak up, these kids are being the voice for their friends.”
Chris Cameron: The Driving Force of Silent Observer
Cameron originally joined Silent Observer in 1990 as assistant to the director. After a brief hiatus, she came back to serve on the Board of Directors before taking over the director role in 1995. Today, she is the driving force for the organization, having led Silent Observer for nearly 25 years.
As the sole employee of Silent Observer, Cameron has her plate full – from fielding tips to raising every dollar needed to keep the program running.
Her dedication has not gone unnoticed. In 2017, Cameron was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Crime Stoppers USA.
“I started in 1990 and have been with the program in some capacity ever since. I love what I do,” Cameron said.
Project Night Lights
This year, Silent Observer also received recognized for its Project Night Lights program. The program was honored nationally with the Community Service Project of the Year award from Crime Stoppers USA, and locally with the Connecting with Community Award from Wood TV.
Project Night Lights is an initiative that brings first responders, law enforcement and the community together to support patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Every month, groups come together to shine lights outside the hospital, saying goodnight and showing support to the children.
Cameron saw this program happening in another community and knew it would bring something special to Grand Rapids. She approached Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and with great excitement, they came together to make it happen in June 2018, in partnership with first responders and Star 105.7.
The patients watch out their windows, shining lights back outside. This simple, silent act of shining lights back and forth lets the patients and their families know that the first responders and community are thinking of them and fighting for them.
Support Silent Observer
Silent Observer is a leader in keeping our community safe. The incredible work they do relies on the generosity of the community for its expenses. You can support Silent Observer by making a financial contribution, participating in Project Night Lights, or simply by spreading the word.
“Outside of financial support, raising awareness is our biggest need,” Cameron said. “Helping us spread the word about our programs is really important.”
On behalf of the Grand Rapids Chamber, we thank Silent Observer and Chris Cameron for the work they do to keep our families, neighborhoods and community safe.