Two decades ago, after violent crime and drugs hit too close to home, John W. Nelson ’64, ’67 J.D. decided it was time to move out of Phoenix.
His closest friend, a cop, had been shot and killed just half a mile away from Nelson’s law office. And police had busted two meth labs within just blocks of the office.
So Nelson moved to Ouray County, Colorado, just outside the small town of Montrose. The area is known for its beautiful mountains and trout fishing. And he quickly became involved in a host of volunteer and civic activities.
Then, about four years ago, he saw an ad in a local newspaper asking for volunteers to start a Crime Stoppers program in the area. Crime Stoppers allows people to report criminal activity anonymously and offers cash rewards for information that leads to an arrest or conviction. Nelson was intrigued, and after attending a couple of meetings in Grand Junction, Colorado, he started the Montrose Regional Crime Stoppers.
Since then, the local program has led to approximately 50 arrests and helped solve more than 100 crimes. And for the past two years, Nelson has served as a regional director for Crime Stoppers USA, helping to educate and train volunteers with programs in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.
“It’s really helpful not only in major cities, but particularly in smaller communities, because most smaller communities do not have enough law enforcement,” Nelson says. “So it’s been extremely rewarding.”
A month ago, for instance, a Crime Stoppers tip enabled Montrose police to arrest a fugitive who had several outstanding warrants, including some for weapons and assault charges.
“You have a couple of those, and that’s what keeps us all going,” Nelson says. “Because we know we have a grossly underfunded and understaffed police department. And that leads to burnout, and it leads to officer safety concerns. And Crime Stoppers has been a major factor in instigating some changes.”
As a regional director, Nelson is eager to help advise volunteers with Crime Stoppers programs on how they can fight crime in their communities. He participates in conference calls and has presented at Crime Stoppers USA’s national conference, all in an effort to share what works.
“The real concept is, through trial and error, good stories and bad, we’ve developed a set of best practices for running an organization,” Nelson says. “Here’s what you do to have a good board. Here’s how you run good meetings. Here’s what you do to ensure your program will be successful. And that’s really the best part of Crime Stoppers USA, because it’s strictly a volunteer organization. If we can keep programs from folding and encourage new programs, that’s what Crime Stoppers is all about. We put a lot of effort into it.”
In addition to serving with Crime Stoppers, Nelson has gotten involved in a variety of civic activities and volunteered extensively. Several years after moving to Colorado, he partnered with a retired fire chief on a ballot referendum that enabled Montrose to build, equip, and staff two new fire stations. He has worked with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which advocates for abused and neglected children within the legal system. He has served as a volunteer first responder, a volunteer firefighter, and a county election judge. But his involvement with Crime Stoppers continues to be special for him.
“It’s amazing how this particular concept has aided law enforcement, and by aiding law enforcement, has made every community safer,” he says. “Because let’s face it, you can have all the beautiful mountains and trout-filled streams, but if you don’t feel safe, the community is not going to be where you want to live. That’s why we do what we do.
“We have something here that is making a positive difference. It makes you feel good. You can change the world, maybe not on a national level, but you sure can change the world where you live.”