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Thieves See the Light
  • Nov 1, 2021
  • 3 minutes

Thieves See the Light

Could a two-dollar blue light bulb dramatically reduce property crime statewide? Yes!  If it stood as a symbol for an all-out media-based community-wide alliance to reduce crime.

Way back in the 1970's Massachusetts led the country in property crime The Boston CBS TV affiliate WNAC fed up with the situation called in Jerry Wishnow. He headed up the Marblehead MA, Wishnow Group Inc., a company specializing in measurably intervening in social issues.

The secret sauce of his approach was to martial several million dollars in unsold time over a year that the station would have lost or given away. The airtime was used to not only promote the intervention but to provide a windfall of institutional exposure to community organizations that provided the manpower and credibility to make it work and the company that paid for it. Every time the project was mentioned so were all of the partners.

Wishnow's research quickly led him to a series of conclusions. Only a small number of perpetrators were actually involved in the break-ins.

Further, if the householder had a kit filled with:

  • free information
  • coupons for free engraving tools
  • at cost anti-theft door locks
  • televised theft reports
  • cash rewards for information leading to thief's arrest and conviction
  • Oh, and if it was delivered door-to-door by uniformed local police in the state's 236 communities courtesy of the Mass. Police Chief’s Association.
  • and, of course, the blue light bulb. Once the resident documented that they had hardened up their home Stop & Shop Grocery, the project's underwriter, provided them with a specially designed blue light bulb supplied free by Sylvania Lighting Company.

When presenting the project dubbed “PRIORITY ONE” Wishnow asked: “If you were a thief and heard TV spots and programming every hour for a year alerting the public to take precautions, saw a local cop deliver a valuable free kit filled with materials to every household on his beat to make your professional life a nightmare and then saw blue light bulb at the front door signifying compliance. What would you do?” According to Wishnow, the correct answer was: “Take a vacation.”

And take a vacation the offenders did. The station was credited by then-Governor Michael Dukakis with helping to reduce property crime by a whopping 21% in the station's coverage area during the project's first year. “If you flew over Greater Boston at dusk back then you could see a sea of blue lights under the wing.” according to Wishnow.

Wishnow's media-based activist approach started years before.  As a newly minted producer at WBZ Radio-TV, Boston he convinced Black Panthers, parents and school principals and a quorum of Boston School Committeemen to sit in a 17'X17' studio, live on the air with the door padlocked from the outside. They couldn't exit until they reopened a key black school closed by racial riots. 22 1/2 hours later they came to an accommodation. Two nationally recognized Hollywood producers Vin Di Bona, America's Funniest Home Videos Creator/Producer and Chas. Floyd Johnson, Executive Producer of the CBS television series, NCIS is currently working to turn Wishnow's screenplay of the event into a feature film.

Why a specially designed blue bulb? Because one clever Sylvania engineer realized that most blue light frequencies attract mosquitoes.

PRIORITY ONE” went on to attract national media attention and a National Emmy award.

Wishnow and his campaigns have received over 70 national and regional awards including a Peabody award, three National Emmy awards, and four Presidential Commendations. Wishnow is the author of "The Activist" a text designed to train local broadcasters in media-based community activism. Many of his project materials are included in the archives of the Paley Center for Media. He has provided pro-bono consultation to numerous national organizations including Yale Law School’s First Amendment Council and Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall Gang.”

When asked if activist media working in the self-interest of all involved including the public could work with today’s social media Wishnow responded by saying:

  • Would the idea of locking the aggrieved and the decision-makers in a room live, on the air, on a streaming national platform, with facilitators work today in Minneapolis or Atlanta?
  • Could Google promote, and Johnson & Johnson incentivize a computerized coupon book with CVS underwriting of a national effort to reduce today's embarrassingly high infant mortality rate?
  • Could Facebook promote, and PPG underwrite Amazon drones to detect weakened or broken electric lines in a remote area that could potentially save lives in forest fires?

“Sure, it could work again today. It's like going back to the future,” said Wishnow.

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