Extending Crime Fight Beyond Screens

Since its launch in January 2015, crime-focused digital subchannel Justice Network has been actively involved in fighting the kind of lawlessness it features in its programming.

“We want you to be entertained and engaged, but we also want you, as an American family, to be safer,” says network CEO Steve Schiffman.

At just two years old, Justice has successfully put that mission into action with a localized, multiplatform initiative that’s yielding concrete results. Through partnerships with law enforcement agencies, on-air PSAs and locally focused informational campaigns, Justice Network is credited with helping law enforcement return 64 missing children to their families and nab 79 fugitives, Schiffman says. The network is currently available in 60 million U.S. homes.

That kind of success is noteworthy, considering that many of the individuals, both victims and perpetrators, have long eluded authorities. Throw in the fledgling net’s youth and relatively limited reach, and it’s even more significant—all of which attests to the potency of the multicast platform as well as the crime-fighting effort.

“In our wildest imagination, we did not think we would be able to achieve those kind of results,” says Schiffman, saying the network’s backers would have been happy with 5-10 apprehensions. “It reinforces the power of television as a medium to get results… and affect positive change.”

John Clark, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, agrees. “The media plays a critical role in reaching the public,” he says. “We’re grateful for partners like Justice Network for their commitment to the issues of missing and exploited children and for helping us engage the public in this fight to keep children safe.”

Schiffman adds that just as he and his partners, who include America’s Most Wanted’s John Walsh, are somewhat floored by the immediacy and breadth of their success, the wider public may be too. “Many look at that as really making a difference,” he says. “I don’t think consumers and viewers really understand what we are doing. I am not sure people in the industry really understand what we are doing.”

One reason for the lack of familiarity is that Justice, like its digital subchannel peers, is an over-the-air newcomer, still in the throes of seeking wider distribution. In addition, the network’s crime-fighting endeavor is relatively complex for the multicast space. Most multicast networks are still trying to find their footing by tweaking their takes on the platform’s core programming—classic TV shows.

Created in keeping with the FCC’s call for broadcasters to use digital spectrum to promote the public good, Justice Network’s effort involves devoting 90 seconds of every hour, every day, to its crime-busting initiative, dubbed “BeSAFE.” That includes airing three separate 30-second spots featuring Walsh, whose advocacy work was sparked by the 1981 abduction and murder of his 6-year-old son, Adam. That airtime would otherwise be used for paid commercials or promos, Schiffman notes.

Each hour includes a spot highlighting a missing child, a fugitive and a safety tip on topics from cybersecurity to best practices for using ATM machines and locking doors. Viewers are encouraged to provide tips that can help police find the missing kids, as well as the fugitives, both of which are also featured on the network’s website, justicenetworktv.com.

The key, however, is that Justice Network’s campaign is localized, so that viewers in, say, Atlanta, get information about missing kids and criminals in their area while Seattle viewers get alerted to individuals in theirs. Local broadcasters literally flip a switch at master control making that possible, providing viewers with more pertinent information in the process.

“After 25 years of doing America’s Most Wanted, I learned the American public will do the right thing if you give them the ability to do it,” Walsh says.

Noting that Justice Network’s effort has been “more wildly successful than any of us anticipated,” Walsh says the network’s work so far does point to the power of broadcasting and something he has known for years: Simply putting the faces of individuals like missing children in front of viewers makes a huge difference.

“I could never figure out why many channels would not show pictures of missing children,” he says. “I know for a fact that 70% of missing children are recovered by someone seeing a picture of them.”

Walsh’s son Callahan, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s child advocate, agrees, saying a photo is “the most important tool when it comes to the recovery of a missing child. The fact that the Justice Network is showing these images every hour is helping bring these kids home.”