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!