Silent Observers allows anonymous crime reporting on campus

Every so often, rumors circulate about Calvin’s judicial process, sometimes rooted in fact but in other cases, purely fiction.

One such rumor, that Calvin students can get paid $50 for turning in another student who is violating policy, does have some truth to it but tends to be often misunderstood and miscommunicated.

The $50 incentive, called the “Fast $50,” is part of the Silent Observer program that operates countywide, explained William Corner, director of Campus Safety.

“The Silent Observer program is run by a nonprofit organization that’s actually funded by the Kent County Business Association. … It’s an anonymous reporting system, and a lot of tips come in about all kinds of different cases, anything from simple theft to drug usage and drug sales to murder cases.”

Anyone in Kent County can report crimes anonymously over the phone, via text message or through email. The information will then be sent on to the people who have the jurisdiction to deal with it, whether that be authorities at a high school, a college or local police.

Corner explained that Calvin has partnered with Silent Observer since 2009. Back then, Calvin had its own anonymous reporting system, which was just a phone number with a voicemail that was not often used.

“Silent Observer offered their services to Calvin,” said Corner, “and we chose to participate in place of what we had before, which didn’t work as well. Now, if we have an incident on campus that someone is reporting [through Silent Observer], they send it directly to us.”

Corner said that, on average, Campus Safety receives four to five tips a year through Silent Observer, mostly giving information about thefts from dorm rooms or student marijuana use.

He also emphasized that the “Fast $50” program is not in any way associated with Calvin but is strictly part of the Silent Observers. “They’re the ones who pay the money — they’re the ones who raise the money. We’re just a beneficiary of the program itself, which means getting that information.”

Not every tip is eligible for the “Fast $50,” either. It is specifically awarded when a tip from a student leads to the recovery of stolen property or drugs.

According to the Silent Observer website, this incentive is in place to encourage students to feel comfortable using Silent Observer in the hope that they will continue to report crime throughout their lives.

Corner pointed out that anonymous crime reporting can feel like a safe alternative for those who are afraid to speak out when they see problematic situations unfolding.

“There can be issues with retaliation and peer pressure and harassment when people step forward and complain about someone who’s behaving inappropriately or committing a crime, and this just gives [students] a way to feel more comfortable about reporting without worrying about retaliation.”

And the goal of crime reporting, whether anonymous or otherwise, is not to get other students in trouble but to support a healthy and open atmosphere on campus.

“Hopefully, it makes for a better community if issues are addressed,” said Corner. “[Otherwise] these issues can grow and become much more problematic.”