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Making Criminals Pay

4/23/2012 --

John Broad, BBA '61/MBA '62, applies business principles to community service as president of Crime Stoppers of Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Twice a week, John Broad, BBA '61/MBA '62, does a televised press conference with the family of a crime victim, often somebody who was murdered.

As president of Crime Stoppers of Michigan, it's part of the job. Yet it's haunting.

"Their grief is unbelievable," Broad says of the families of crime victims. "They know somebody did it, but they don't know who. They do know that person is walking around enjoying life. We're part of trying to correct that."

Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards for anonymous tips that lead to arrests, and appeals from family members are powerful drivers. "Chances are somebody in that neighborhood knows something, and if we can get the victim's mother out with a message, promising anonymity and a reward, that can be more effective," Broad says.

Broad took over as president of Michigan Crime Stoppers in 2005, his second go-around with the organization. Both times the career business owner felt the tug of social responsibility.

"Recently I've heard the expression 'social entrepreneurship,'" he says. "I was an entrepreneur and businessman for 33 years, but I kept getting pulled toward trying to solve social problems. It was a really hard tug for me. For people who have been in business for a long time, the opportunity to take that business and entrepreneurial knowledge and apply it toward social problems — whether it's crime, abandoned houses, homelessness, or poverty — is tremendously rewarding.

"Business entrepreneurs see the benefit of what they do in profits, job creation, and satisfied customers. Social entrepreneurs see the benefit of what they do by making life better in their community. But the principles of both aren't that different."

Being the Change

Broad first felt the tug of social responsibility in the early 1980s on his daily drive to and from his business, structural steel firm Broad, Vogt & Conant. He saw a lot of abandoned homes along his route, and a lot of children walking by them and waiting at bus stops near them.

He felt that was a recipe for disaster and mentioned it to a friend, who suggested Broad join the Detroit Regional Chamber. Broad initially resisted — "I had a business to run" — but later joined and became chairman of the public safety committee.

Broad was instrumental in forming the Alliance for a Safer, Greater Detroit, a group of business, government, and community leaders. The alliance launched freeway courtesy patrols and funded trips for inner-city youth to attend university sports camps. Eventually the group focused on making Crime Stoppers of Michigan a regional force. Broad and the alliance thought a coordinated, regional effort would be more effective than scattered local offices.

Crime Stoppers was founded in 1975 in New Mexico and has affiliate groups in all 50 states and 22 countries. The Michigan branch encompasses 4.7 million people in seven southeast Michigan counties, including Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Crime Stoppers helps police gather information on serious, unsolved crimes. The tip line is heavily advertised, and all calls are anonymous. Tips are processed at a call center in Canada with no caller ID, and each tipster receives a case number. They can call back to check if the tip has been issued a reward, which happens if the information leads to an arrest.

If a reward is given, Crime Stoppers sends the money to a bank and the tipster can pick up an envelope with cash using only the case number. No identification is required. Crime Stoppers of Michigan offers rewards of $1,000, or $2,500 for homicides.

Back in the Fold

Broad eventually left the alliance and the Crime Stoppers of Michigan board. But after closing his operating companies in 2001, he was asked to return to the board. When the president left in 2005, Broad was hired full time.

His business acumen was tested right away. The organization had negative net worth, some key people resigned, and board meetings were irregular. One of its biggest fundraisers, an annual recognition dinner, was looming with no sponsors signed up. The group only was getting about 1,000 tips a year.

Broad asked vendors to accept delayed payments, obtained a key grant from the Hudson Webber Foundation, and visited businesses to offer corporate memberships. There, he found a receptive audience.

"They want a safe community," he says. "The ability to attract talent to the region can be hampered by our reputation."

Crime Stoppers of Michigan has recorded positive cash flow ever since, and tips were up to about 6,000 in 2011, with 338 ensuing arrests. Funding comes from businesses, law enforcement, personal gifts, and the annual recognition dinner. Total revenue in 2011 was $1.3 million, and Crime Stoppers' message was everywhere. "We're on TV and radio, we're in print and on billboards, we do robo-calls, and we highlight specific crimes. Our big increase in tips was due to higher awareness and a higher level of trust that we're anonymous."

For the veteran businessman, it was a standard turnaround with social implications. "In business, you're always looking at the delta, the disconnect. Your job is to fix the delta," he says. "When I look at my community, especially parts of Detroit, the deltas are glaring. How do you fix them? It's easy to get frustrated by rules and turf battles. But it really doesn't take that many people to get something done."

Stand Up, Speak Up

Now Broad is capitalizing on the organization's momentum and innovating around communication channels. Crime Stoppers of Michigan recently started targeted automatic calls, or robo-calls, to homes surrounding serious crimes. Residents will hear a message from a family member of the victim, asking to call the 1-800-SPEAK UP line with information.

Broad also is looking into partnerships with churches to create call stations. He says some potential tipsters still are scared to use their own phones, even though calls aren't tracked. The idea is to have phones connected to Crime Stoppers, possibly called "Stand Up Stations," to add another layer of anonymity.

Working with victims' families is another important layer.

Crime Stoppers of Michigan has tweaked the television show it produces for county jails and state prisons, based on prisoners' feedback. Prisoners have said they tune out messages from police officers or Crimes Stoppers employees. But a message from a family member, especially a mother, would resonate.

"We changed the show so now it's a mother asking for help," Broad says. "They all have mothers."

—Terry Kosdrosky



For more information, contact:
Terry Kosdrosky, (734) 936-2502, terrykos@umich.edu