Photography by Owen Jones.
Chuck Curtis wanted to help the police. But he never envisioned running down an alley, tackling a bad guy and shackling him with handcuffs. Good thing he’s a talented TV advertiser.
“That’s my answer to everything — do a TV commercial,” he says.
The Crime Stoppers USA secretary is transforming the nonprofit’s marketing department with three TV commercials shot in East Dallas. Curtis hopes the spots will empower neighbors to report suspicious behavior via Crime Stoppers’ anonymous hotline. If they provide information leading to an arrest, they’re repaid with a cash reward.
Viewers may recognize Bryan Street Tavern and homes on Lower Greenville when the commercials air nationally this summer. One major cable company with 16 million subscribers has already expressed interest. The spots will also be distributed to local TV stations via more than 500 Crime Stoppers chapters across the United States.
The commercials depict real-life scenarios that have prompted residents to call the Crime Stoppers hotline. Callers are often relatives, neighbors or bargoers who overhear critical information. But as the commercials show, the ability to report anonymously means identity is kept hidden, even from call responders.
“Hopefully the viewer will go through these spots thinking it’s one person who is making the phone call,” says director Dan Curtis, an East Dallas cinematographer at Be Content Media. “Then at the end – because we’re trying to stress how anonymous it is – you’ll realize it’s someone else entirely. It’s a classic case of misdirection.”
The commercials are a new marketing strategy for Crime Stoppers, which previously relied on tabloid publications filled with mugshots and weekly crime re-enactments for publicity. As print circulation decreased and surveillance footage advanced, the organization had to look for other ways to advertise.
“A lot of people don’t know about us,” Chuck Curtis says. “We still have an awareness problem all across the country. We have operations down really well, but we don’t have marketing down so well.”
Last year, the local Crime Stoppers chapter, which works with more than 90 law enforcement agencies in Dallas, Collin and Grayson counties, provided 148 tips that led to arrests, says East Dallas board member Jean Maier Dean. The chapter, which operates under the North Texas Crime Commission, includes several other neighbors, who hope to see that number grow when the commercials air.
“It’s to get awareness out there,” board member Jim Hughes says. “We put out wanted posters, and occasionally the news will pick up an interesting case, but to get that much exposure would be very helpful in a lot of these unsolved cases.”
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