Friday, January 9, 2009

C.S. … I Don’t Think So!

by Diane Dimond

Emmy Award winning TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer has let me down. He’s let all of us down.

For years we’ve been riveted by his prime time programs: The CSI franchise based in Miami, Las Vegas and New York, Cold Case, Without a Trace and others. I am one of Bruckheimer’s biggest fans.

But on a recent episode of CSI Miami Bruckheimer’s quality control broke down. He allowed his writers to get away with poetic license that could seriously damage law enforcement efforts.

In an episode called “The Tipping Point” a thug declares of his ‘hood, “God gave up on this neighborhood a long time ago.” And, indeed, we learn the population has been scared into silence by the violent actions of the local gang. But then a do-gooder named Reverend Mike is murdered. Investigators are stymied until one brave young person calls Crime Stoppers with vital information.

This is a wonderful message for those urban numbskulls who still think cooperating with police is “snitching.”

But what do Bruckheimer’s writers have the authorities say when they learn there is a Crime Stoppers tip? Are they thankful? No.

“Those people are just trying to make a buck off the county. Can we trust them?” one ignorant character asks another.

Within minutes we see the tipster, a worried young woman named Yolanda, exiting an elevator at police headquarters asking, “So, you can guarantee no one will know I’m the one who called?” And she is reassured by the lead detective that all tips are confidential. Later, as the officer scrolls through a computer list of other Crime Stopper calls (and we clearly see a roster of names and address) another CSI dumbbell dismissively questions the detective’s action saying, “The tip line? I thought it was mostly crackpots!”

Now, if any of the program’s writers bothered to check facts they would have found that Crime Stoppers is nothing like they described. First, the reward fund is 100% donated from civilian sources and takes no county, state or federal money. Doing so would require a paper trail no one wants. Why? Because all tips are strictly confidential! No one would ever ask for a caller’s name or address and that information is never stored on some computerized master list. When someone with a tip phones Crime Stoppers they are given a unique tipster ID number and told to keep calling back to see if they are due a reward check.

For CSI Miami to show tipster Yolanda being outed and brought into a public cop shop is impossible. It would never happen.

And, so what occurs next in the episode is completely inconceivable. Somehow the street gang finds out Yolanda has been talking to police. She’s hog-tied and left inside a building that’s about to be obliterated by a massive bomb. She’s saved at the last minute because the lead character, Horatio Caine, pulls a Dudley Do Right.

The lesson left from this CSI Miami episode was that if you snitch you’re in danger. If you talk to the police about a crime the bad guy will find out and get you. If you’re lame enough to call Crime Stoppers you must be a “crackpot”. How many young people saw that episode and lodged that lesson in their brain? And I’ll bet it’s not just Crime Stopper personnel who cringed at the program. Good detectives everywhere welcome anonymous tips, especially in murder cases. They’ve already got to fight the rap-music message that “snitchin’ ain’t cool.” They don’t need a popular prime time TV show (dedicated to crime fighting, no less!) helping spread that self-destructive line.

Look, I’m a writer. I value the First Amendment, character development and all that. What I don’t value is lazy writing that leaves the wrong impression when the real facts are so compelling.

As I, coincidentally, wrote in this space recently Crime Stoppers has been in existence for more than 30 years. Its success is directly attributed to good citizens who do the right thing. In the U.S. more than 800 thousand cases, like murder, rape, armed robbery and child molestation have been cleared thanks to Crime Stopper tipsters. More than a billion dollars in property has been recovered, 4 billion dollars worth of illegal drugs.

At the end of the CSI episode the bad guys are busted because Yolanda picked up a phone. She got a thousand dollar reward after her information led to arrests. That’s a scenario CSI got right. It happens every day in all 50 states and 24 countries where Crime Stoppers operates.

Come on, Hollywood. You don’t have to make it up. Just follow the facts – especially when you’re dealing with something as crucial as Crime Stoppers. And please, Jerry Bruckheimer, don’t re-run that episode!


Stacy Dittrich said...


Anonymous said...

Agree... I don't watch any of the CSI shows. I'd like to think most people have common sense to realize these shows are for entertainment purposes only.

Rj said...

Great post.

--Anonymous--Sadly, a lot of people don't have enough "common sense" to realize this is for entertainment. You're excusing social responsibility and the fact that this could be used s a scare tactic to further deepen the mistrust for the legal system in communities of color.

Diane Dimond said...

You know, most of the time when I see these kind of mistakes on these crime genre dramas I just snicker and let it go. But, Crime Stoppers is just too important a crime fighting tool to have let THAT episode go un-commented upon!

If you saw it and were upset you can write to Jerry Bruckheimer here:

Mr. Jerry Bruckheimer
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
1631 Tenth Street
Santa Monica, California 90404

cheryl said...

I have been wanting to say this for years, and I will write to Mr. Jerry Bruckheimer.

I will tell him that CSI's don't interrogate suspects. Many CSI's don't even have college degrees.

His shows often make the "cops" look like idiots, and the "real" heroes are the CSIs.

Diane Dimond said...

I ALWAYS say that to my husband when we watch, "Hey...what's the lab guy doing out in the field questioning suspects?"
As a long time TV person I can see a LITTLE poetic license in a drama show...but not an out and out lie...Like, not painting CrimeStoppers to be a program where tipsters can get burned! ~ DD

Jan said...

I guess as long as Horatio whips off his sunglasses before uttering a profound truth, then it's good TV.

Thank you for the address for Jerry B. I will send a note to remind him that with sky high TV ratings comes great responsibility.

Diane Dimond said...

Atta' Girl! That's why I love this many feisty readers!
Pass the address on, please. ~ DD

FleaStiff said...

"Look, I’m a writer. I value the First Amendment, character development and all that. What I don’t value is lazy writing that leaves the wrong impression when the real facts are so compelling."

Real facts?
Okay. What part of your blog entry addressed the issue of danger to a snitch when a snitch's identity gets learned by the police or defense lawyers? A Hollywood writer's unrealistic device of making it a crime-stopper's snitch is hardly relevant to the issue of danger to the snitch.
What part of your blog entry dealt with the available facts concerning those who snitch to crime stoppers are often friends, relatives and fellow criminals of the people they turn in for drinking and drug money?

Some darned TV show with a crime neatly solved between commercials is hardly going to be realistic. Would people watching TV for entertainment really want to see realism? Should a TV show be required to emphasize that a cold-case squad's actual purpose is to provide a soft gig for a detective to serve out his twenty amidst dusty archives rather than a more arduous gig? Should a TV show be required to reveal that those who loiter outside a bar and phone in license tags of drunk drivers for a small cash reward often spend that reward in a bar and then drive home drunk?

Jan said...

Why shouldn't we hold entertainment TV to high standards? I don't see a need to "dumb" it down for the audience.

The TV industry needs to give the viewers some credit for intelligence. And provide quality programming. Just because the network execs are in a rut with what they "think" we want, doesn't mean they have to follow the usual formula.

TV viewing may be an escape from reality, but that doesn't mean it has to be an alternate universe.

Diane Dimond said...

Hey, fleastiff -
One column cannot possibly take on all the ills found in our criminal justice system. Gimme a break!

I wrote about ONE episode of ONE of the many crime shows on the air today. It perpetuated the FALSE idea that if you phone in a tip to CRIME STOPPERS you will be outed as a tipster (notice I didn't say snitch, which to me is a pejorative term)

That would NEVER happen. Crime Stoppers takes no names, no phone numbers, no id - so there is no way a Crime Stoppers tipster could be outed. Taken in that context the rest of your questions are moot.

Are there some skells out there who try to live off reward money - yeah. I wasn't addressing THEM at all in my column. I was addressing the millions of good citizens who, over the 30 years of Crime Stoppers,have phoned in tips to help solve millions of crimes.

Martina Cross said...

Actually, I work the Crimestoppers hotline at my local police department and oftentimes we DO take names, addresses and phone numbers. It depends on what type of information they are providing. At least a third of the time the people that call into Crimestoppers testify at trial in this State. I can't speak for other states.

Also, more than half the calls that come into Crimestoppers are bogus calls. Crackpots abound. Especially if the case is very high profile. Everyone and their mother is calling in and pointing blame on any number of people; because they're slow, they're odd or because someone has an ax to grind against them.

While it is true that Crimestoppers has helped over the years it can also be a hinderance. And to claim that Crimestoppers has helped to solve millions of crimes is more than a bit of a stretch.

Diane Dimond said...

Martina -
May I ask which Crime Stoppers you are affiliated with? What state are we talking about here?
Because you are the ONLY one I've ever heard say they take names and id information.
As for the claim that Crime Stoppers has solved millions of crimes...Remember,the program started 32 years ago...Its now active in all 50 states and 23 countries.
If you doubt my figures, please, double check them at the Crime Stoppers main web sits and at the Chiefs of Police main site. I've never heard anyone before you suggest the numbers are cooked. ~DD

Anonymous said...

I agree Diane. CSI is one of the worst made fake shows on television. From the writing to the acting, it sucks.
For a well done program watch A&E's The First 48. It's a documentary series that follows homicide detective in the first crucial 48 hours after a homicide. it's shown with respect of the homicide victim and the victims loved ones. It exposes the insanity of murder with no glory. The detectives quite often work with Crime Stoppers Tips. We need a Crime Stoppers in all communities and teach society that "snitch" and "Rat" are criminals words. If someone does commit a crime and you tell the truth about it, you're a hero!