The Bee Guardian

For more than 20 years, Corwin Bell has been on a mission to save the honeybees.
In 2005, after a decade of refining his beekeeping hobby, he launched BackYardHive in Eldorado Springs, Colorado. Besides selling beekeeping accessories and build-your-own hive supplies, the blueprints for which he designs, the site provides learning tools that act as an alternative to conventional beekeeping methods. Bell believes that by arming people with a convenient, actionable way to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time, we can help honeybees survive and thrive — and do so right from our own backyards.
Though the rates of Colony Collapse Disorder — first identified in 2006 after colonies of worker bees mysteriously disappeared — have declined in recent years, honeybee populations continue to be threatened by pesticides, mite infestation, low genetic diversity and climate change.
In 2017, beekeepers across the U.S. lost 40 percent of their colonies, which Bell attributes in part to extreme temperature shifts that are occurring more and more frequently.
To that end Bell, who had already been making hives based on the traditional top-bar design, eventually invented what he calls the “cathedral hive” to help bees survive cold winters and preserve their genetics.
Aside from saving bees, Bell’s bigger vision includes educating more backyard beekeepers. Through BackYardHive, he offers bee guardianship courses ranging from the beginner level to intensive, hands-on workshops.  
“We have bee guardians all over the U.S., and for sure all over the world, that are creating this extended habitat for the bees,” he says.
Watch the video above to learn more about the plight of the modern honeybee and how Bell’s efforts are helping this very vulnerable population.

Invest in What Works: National Service

National news can be jarring. We thrust from one exhausting story to the next. Just this week, we’re trying to make sense of new indictments and what they mean for our country and democracy.   
These are crucial conversations, and we need to follow the facts wherever they lead. But we also need to keep our eye on immediate problems facing our communities — and come up with real solutions.
One obvious answer? National service. We should take to heart the wisdom of Fred Rogers’s mother and “look for the helpers.” They are all around us, and it’s easy to join them.
Each year, more than 80,000 Americans engage in an intensive service year through AmeriCorps. These Americans are reframing challenges as opportunities and taking action to make a difference in their communities.
I’ve seen this in my home state of Colorado where more than 2,500 people spend a year serving our local communities through national service programs like AmeriCorps.
Our State Service Commission, Serve Colorado, awards AmeriCorps program grants to organizations statewide that use “people power” to address our most critical community needs. From battling the opioid epidemic, to boosting educational outcomes for our students, to fighting hunger and housing instability — national service programs are working.
This fall, 12 AmeriCorps members will serve with the Colorado AmeriCorps Community Opioid Response Program to reduce the impact of opioid abuse. Meanwhile in Denver, where AmeriCorps members are serving in classrooms with City Year, three out of four schools served by the program have moved up in the city’s school ratings. In the San Luis Valley, members serving with La Puente Home are providing wrap-around services to people experiencing homelessness and helping their food bank network.
National service is a powerful force in times of crisis. Right now, more than 2,200 AmeriCorps members are supporting and rebuilding communities impacted by the recent hurricanes. Here in Colorado, we know all too well what an important role national service plays in disaster recovery. In 2012, during the Waldo Canyon Fire that devastated our state, more than 175 AmeriCorps members responded working with fire crews on the front lines, operating evacuation shelters, and managing volunteers. I personally saw the impact that these members had and will forever be grateful for their service.
But the time to invest in national service is not only when we need it most, but in times of shaping what our future could be.
National service programs not only address critical challenges, but are incredibly cost-effective — saving money for both local communities and taxpayers.
Through a unique public-private partnership, federal investment in national service is matched by private sources to magnify impact and increase return on taxpayer money. For every federal dollar invested in AmeriCorps, more than two dollars is matched by donations and in-kind support from private sources.
National service sees a nearly four to one return on investment to society from things like higher earnings to increased output. That’s incredible for any organization or business.
That’s why we are looking to double our investment in national service in Colorado. Plain and simple, AmeriCorps works — but it requires our investment.
National service doesn’t just strengthen our communities; it reminds us that we are changemakers. In a time when too many try to divide us — left versus right, urban versus rural — national service is exactly what we should be investing in. It’s how we can cut through the noise to make real change.
We all have a role in shaping our future. So let’s pick up a shovel, a book or a clipboard and get to work.

John Hickenlooper is the 42nd governor of Colorado and the former mayor of Denver.

The Rx for Better Birth Control

Back in 2015, word was going around on social media claiming that Colorado — a state that battled high unwanted pregnancy rates for years — had reduced those numbers drastically by changing the way women accessed birth control.
The rumor was right.
Unwanted pregnancies among Colorado women ages 15 to 19 years old have dropped by 54 percent over the past seven years, thanks in large part to the state providing access to intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and long-lasting birth control. The move enabled another progressive bill aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies to win universal support between Republicans and Democrats.
“I think that if I’m being really honest, we were pretty surprised at the robust bipartisan support we got on this,” says Sarah Taylor-Nanista, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees clinics in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. “We anticipated it to be a lot more controversial than it was, and it was really heartening to see it go through the way that it did.”
The bill, which was signed into law in June 2017 by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, allows women to receive a 12-month prescription of birth control pills or patch at no-cost after an initial, one-time, three-month prescription. The bill also required the state to cover three-month vaginal rings, which also prevent pregnancy.
note from the state’s independent governing research body, the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, found that the change in the law would result in “minimal” impacts to the fiscal budget, although it could affect insurance premiums paid by the state, assuaging conservative fears that an exorbitant amount of state funding being funneled towards contraception.
“Sometimes it’s a long ways to the pharmacy,” says Sen. Don Coram, who sponsored the Senate bill and lobbied other Republican senators to view the bill through an economic lens. “The fact is that if you want to end a cycle of poverty, you prevent unplanned pregnancy.”
The bill passed the state Senate with bipartisan support, 22-11.
Coram, a self-proclaimed “redneck Republican,” extolled the social benefits of contraceptive accessibility, something usually heard from more progressive leaders.
“It’s just a common sense thing. I’m from rural Colorado where 70 percent of my district is federally owned land. I don’t have a Walgreens around the block,” he tells NationSwell. “And the fact is, birth control only works when you take it.”

Purple support

Polls conducted in 2014 by Planned Parenthood showed contraception is a nonpartisan issue nationwide — something Colorado legislators were able to use in their advantage. According to Colorado state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House, a bit of manipulative planning was required to get bilateral support.
“I’ll tell you one thing I did when [testimonies] were heard in the Senate: I asked Planned Parenthood to stay home,” Landgraf tells NationSwell. “As soon as they come to the House, people start thinking about Planned Parenthood and all the negative connotations that it has for some Republicans. Not as if their testimony wasn’t helpful, but if it leads one mind’s astray from the actual problem, there’s no value in it.”
Landgraf says that the bill was a “good bill for women and for men,” but preconceived notions about the organization needed to be erased. In their efforts to replace the ACA, Republicans on the national stage have argued for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, but swing states and districts overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood’s mission of providing access to contraceptives.
That’s because increased accessibility is especially good for women in rural areas, says Erika Hanson, a legal fellow at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
“These types of laws disproportionately affects women in rural areas, because as with many for services in rural areas, it is very difficult for women to access healthcare,” Hanson tells NationSwell, adding that the NWLC offers a hotline specifically to provide assistance to women who have a hard time accessing contraception. “We hear from thousands of women who are having troubles getting coverage or getting access to birth control and often it is as simple as they can’t find an in-network provider that’s close enough to them. Or they’re getting the runaround from their insurance company about what pharmacy to go to, which may not be close.”
After some initial pushback from Republicans in 2015, the success of Colorado’s IUD program — including a savings of $111 million in birth-related Medicaid costs by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — was enough to convince members of both parties in the state legislature that it deserved to be expanded.

Time bound coverage?

Washington’s tug-of-war over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused states to be wary of future legislation changing the existing contraception mandate, which requires insurers to cover all forms of contraception (though only from one manufacturer). That aspect of the bill has been widely praised among women for eliminating costs associated with getting birth control.
In 2015, during a heated partisan debate on whether privately-held companies should be forced to offer birth control coverage, 49 congress members signed a letter urging the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell, to provide a roadmap to insurers for 12-month contraceptive coverage for women across the nation.
No federal guidelines were issued as a result of the letter.
In response, several other states have also expanded coverage beyond federal regulations.
Traditional blue states, such as Oregon and California, have also made oral contraceptives and patches available for year-long prescriptions, a move that reduces unwanted pregnancy by 30 percent. That same study, conducted by the University of California San Francisco’s Bixby Center, reports that extended contraception coverage also lowers the number of abortions by 40 percent.
California also made it a requirement that insurance plans pay for all forms and all brands of birth control. Research shows that lack of brand choice causes two-fifths of women to go without birth control.
But women in states with expanded coverage are at-risk of losing it if their employer disagrees with the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. President Trump is expected to eliminate an Obama-era rule requiring employers to provide birth control through employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The new rule, which mirrors an earlier draft and is expected to be written any day now, would allow employers to omit birth control coverage from health insurance plans completely, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Democrats say 50 million women in the U.S. will be forced to pay for birth control out of pocket.
But the win for contraceptive rights in Colorado is not lost on Planned Parenthood’s Taylor-Nanista, who wants to continue the momentum of bipartisanship within the state and hopefully the rest of the nation, especially in a time where female contraception coverage is at stake.
“Many of our activists and patients are feeling really concerned and hopeless,” she says. “But I think this bill is a great example of what we can do when we think strategically.”

Streaming Government in a Smartphone Era

Provoking a citywide debate about the safety of downtown Eugene, Ore., isn’t what Matt Sayre set out to do when he put together a three-minute video of a passionate citizen speaking at a City Council meeting and posted it on Facebook, where it reached an audience of 40,000 people. But that’s exactly what happened.
“Not everyone makes it to the meetings, so to be effective, we brought the meeting to where [citizens] are: on social media,” Sayre says.
Sayre stitched the clips together using software created by Open Media Foundation, a Denver-based nonprofit. Its Open Media Project initiative transforms traditional local government meetings into modern, in-the-palm-of-your-hand video streams.
In today’s increasingly hectic world, constituents don’t have time to track whether their state and local politicians are upholding their campaign promises. Combined with that is a decline in local news coverage. The outcome? Power is being handed to lobbyists, says Tony Shawcross, the foundation’s executive director.
“We’ve seen trust in government and voter turnout drop for 50 years, and we think the reason is because government is falling behind the times. Our big-picture goal is lowering the bar for what it takes to be engaged,” Shawcross says.
Accessible via desktop or mobile, school boards and municipal and state governments can use the foundation’s cloud-based platform — Open Media Project (OMP) — to give citizens quick access to what’s going on. Constituents can watch live webcasts of government meetings and search through archived agendas and transcribed video files to jump straight to points in the video where specific topics of interest (like “homeless shelters” or “tobacco”) are mentioned. If users find a moment worth sharing, they can, like Sayre, package a video to share on social media.
The tools themselves might not sound flashy, but the transparency they promote is what makes democracy function, says Neil Moyer, director of the Lane Council of Government’s Metro Television, which coordinates with the foundation to stream meetings for Eugene and other nearby cities.
“Our driving motivation is not just to replay meetings but to help our community thrive, and I really believe we thrive only when we have good governance. We only get good governance when people are paying attention.”
Sometimes, politicians push back on OMP’s capabilities, hesitant to practice full disclosure online. But as a nonprofit, the Open Media Foundation prioritizes what its beneficiaries — constituents themselves — need above all else. “We’re putting in features that are above and beyond what governments demand and expect in terms of accessibility,” Shawcross says.
The Open Media Foundation was founded in 2001 under its original name [denverevolution]. In 2006, it helped the City of Denver set up a new public broadcasting station on the cheap. That project attracted the attention of Andrew Romanoff, then speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, who was trying to set up a state version of C-SPAN.
In 2013, the foundation created a video-on-demand tool for the legislature’s web portal. The number of visitors to the site doubled and inspired Shawcross to replicate the idea on a smaller scale. By the end of 2016, 10 local governments in Colorado used the service.
The Open Media Project is supported by Comcast NBCUniversal and Fast Forward, an accelerator for tech-focused nonprofits. It makes its software available through an online portal, and the video is streamed through YouTube. The basic software package is free for towns with less than 5,000 residents, $3,000 for cities of 5,000 to 50,000 residents and $6,000 for cities of more than 50,000. The organization’s founders hope the software’s low cost will help spread it to local government websites across the country.  
Back in Eugene, Sayre’s video posts have increased attendance at city council meetings where community safety is a key agenda item.
“To hear what someone is saying at a meeting and to see their body language is engaging,” Sayre says. “Energy attracts energy.”
Sayre hopes that this rise in community involvement in the political process will lead to greater safety in downtown Eugene.


This article is part of the What’s Possible series produced by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, which shines a light on changemakers who are creating opportunities to help people and communities thrive in a 21st-century world. These social entrepreneurs and their future-forward ideas represent what’s possible when people come together to create solutions that connect, educate and empower others and move America forward.
Homepage photo by iStock/Getty.

Using AI as a Weapon Against Overfishing, A New Approach to Helping Homeless Addicts and More

How AI Can Help Keep Ocean Fisheries Sustainable, Fast Company
Overfishing is a huge threat to global ecosystems, but experts are taking a cue from Silicon Valley to find a solution. By mounting cameras on fishing boats and using the same facial recognition tech that Facebook uses to identify people in photos, scientists can classify different fish species and help root out illegal harvests.
A Sober Utopia, Pacific Standard
A new program in Colorado takes a radical approach to helping homeless addicts — giving them the freedom to rebuild their lives on their own terms. Housed in Fort Lyon (ironically, a former prison), the program is a mix of rehab, university and startup, with many residents pursuing creative interests and building businesses as they become sober.
Inside LAX’s New Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Unit, The Atlantic
With 75 million travelers passing through its terminals every year, LAX is one of the most vulnerable terrorist targets in the U.S. But the airport behemoth has built an intelligence team from the ground up with analytic capabilities that “rival the agencies of a small nation-state.” The team’s innovative approach to fighting terrorism could signal a larger shift in the way global infrastructure sites protect themselves — building their own intelligence units when “the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security [are] simply not good enough.”
Continue reading “Using AI as a Weapon Against Overfishing, A New Approach to Helping Homeless Addicts and More”

Packing the Substitute Teacher Pool With Outside Experts, Charging Cars By the Mile (Not By the Gallon) and More

What Can Substitute Teachers Do for City Schools? CityLab

The average teacher misses 9.4 days each school year. Total it up, and by high school graduation, a student will have spent six months of class-time with a substitute teacher. Rather than having a sub plod through an unfamiliar lesson plan or just distribute worksheets, a new model at two Boston schools places local experts in urban farming, animation, robotics, puppetry — you name it — at the blackboard to teach about their field.
Taxing Drivers by the Mile, Instead of at the Pump, The Denver Post

Hybrid and electric vehicles may be a boon to the atmosphere, but they’ve caused some headaches for government administrators, namely, how to pay for bridge and road repairs. Prius drivers travel farther on a tank — functionally discounting their share of the gas tax — so the Colorado Department of Transportation is testing the feasibility of a fairer standard: charging for each mile driven instead.
Can Hypothermia Save Gunshot Victims? The New Yorker

Most people who suffer a traumatic gunshot wound die within an hour. Having lost so much blood, their heart can no longer circulate what’s left. A new procedure at University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center, near Baltimore, buys more time by putting the body on ice. When a victim is wheeled in, doctors fill the body with freezing saline, pausing heartbeats and giving them just enough time to sew up the wounds.

This User-Friendly Tool Gets You In The Know Before You Vote

With the presidential primary election looming, Chicago public school teacher Megan Augustiny introduced her high school civics students to BallotReady, an online guide to down-ballot races. (Think: state attorney, judgeships, city council — candidates that first-time voters in her class had never heard of, but would soon be electing to office). The nonpartisan site compiles essential information that voters need on little-known candidates — their job experience, positions on controversial issues and endorsements accrued — making it easy for students (and all voters) to “access information in the way they are used to,” she says, favoriting contenders as if their sample ballot were an Instagram feed.
Which is just what Alex Niemczewski and Aviva Rosman, two recent University of Chicago grads who co-founded BallotReady, had envisioned. Both are reserved, heads-down types who prefer to focus on their work, speaking softly about their high-minded ideals of involving more people at all stages of the democratic process. The two built the site in their spare time and spent just $180 on marketing to launch BallotReady. Within a few months, it irreversibly changed voter behavior across Illinois, where thousands of people logged on to the site. During this year’s bombastic election season, instead of skipping many of the contests, or worse, casting an uninformed vote, BallotReady users now have at their fingertips valuable information about local and regional candidates that are virtually unknown to most people.
For a glimpse of BallotReady’s reach, all one needs to do is log on to Twitter on Election Day.

In states where it’s active, BallotReady is so popular that politicians ask to add specifics to their profiles, offering new possibilities for local campaigns that are too small to attract media coverage or buy their own advertisements. If a school board member sees her opponent vows to support a charter school expansion, for instance, the incumbent may add more details to her education platform. “If a candidate says, ‘I support education,’ we don’t include that, because everybody does,” Niemczewski says. Although, “if a candidate didn’t support education, we would include that,” she adds.
BallotReady emerged from a collision of two pasts: Rosman’s as an enthusiastic electioneer and Niemczewski’s nonprofit work, as well as her knack for code. A self-avowed political junkie, Rosman started participating in the political process in middle school, driving with her dad from their native Massachusetts to New Hampshire and attempting to sway the state’s swing voters every election. In 2004, she nearly failed two high school classes when she used frequent flier miles to campaign for John Kerry in Florida. Four years later, while staffing a congressional race in Illinois, Rosman realized her knowledge was severely lacking. “I was trying to inform people about my candidate, and yet, I was unprepared to vote for all these other people on the ballot,” she remembers. Then in 2014, Rosman ran for a seat on the school council in Chicago. She asked Niemczewski, an old classmate then coaching Chicago’s unemployed into IT jobs, to vote for her. “I didn’t even know there was an election,” Niemczewski says, admitting to missing the vote. The two stayed in touch and a few months later, collaborated on the guide that developed into BallotReady.
More than 160,000 voters in Illinois, Virginia, Kentucky and Colorado have used BallotReady to inform their choices — a 10-fold growth from its launch last fall. The site is expanding its reach, developing profiles for candidates in Maryland, New Hampshire and Florida. Scaling hasn’t been easy: “It takes a lot of phone calls and relationship-building. That’s kind of daunting,” Niemczewski says, noting that 100 volunteer curators are needed to build candidate profiles, “but it’s also exciting, because it means we can really help.” By year’s end, BallotReady hopes to reach 1 million voters, and by 2020, to be in every state.
Since BallotReady is committed to educating every American citizen, it devotes resources to eliminating digital access issues that arise. Once, Niemczewski responded to a request from an elderly woman in an assisted living center. After the woman reported being unable to load BallotReady, Niemczewski troubleshot the problem by backdating the site’s functionality, so the senior citizens could use it on their outdated computers.
Ultimately, BallotReady’s founders work to make their innovative site as user-friendly as possible — to both the older electorate and young, first-time voters alike. That mission is just one of the reasons why teachers like Augustiny thinks that its online repository of candidate profiles is a great way to get Millennials more involved in elections. “The Internet is so pervasive at this point: it informs everything that we do, especially for younger people. Not having that information readily accessible online was a real disservice to young people,” she says.

As a teacher, Augustiny always wants her kids to develop in-depth research skills. But when it comes to voting — an activity that’s made so many Americans apathetic — she’s in favor of turning to BallotReady for a digital shortcut.
This article is part of the What’s Possible series produced by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, which shines a light on changemakers who are creating opportunities to help people and communities thrive in a 21st-century world. These social entrepreneurs and their future forward ideas represent what’s possible when people come together to create solutions that connect, educate and empower others and move America forward.
MORE: Investing in the Future: This Visionary Program Gets Students Hooked on STEM

The Volunteer Army That’s Powering Denver’s Environmental Revolution

A decade ago, inspired by Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Denver residents Sue Okerson and Kevin Suchlicki met up with other neighborhood activists to chat about climate change. Grand ideas like protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and tax credits for wind and solar energies were mentioned, but everyone really wanted practical ways to help the planet right now. Having a light bulb moment, Sucklicki tossed out, “Well, what about something as simple as changing out everyone’s front porch light?”
Soon after, Okerson and Suchlicki started by handing out compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) at a local food bank and canvassing their neighborhoods. “We just went out and bought the bulbs, knocked on the door, talked to people and said, ‘What do you think?’” The pair explained to homeowners that CFLs use only one-quarter the energy of a traditional incandescent bulb — saving about $30 in electricity costs over the light’s lifespan. (Not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions it removes the environment.) After hearing the benefits, most let Okerson and Suchlicki switch out their porch bulb.

This team is taking sustainability to Denver’s streets.

After they’d covered nearby blocks, this two-man light bulb brigade reached out to Groundwork Denver, a local nonprofit that could take their idea across the Mile-High City, focusing on low-income neighborhoods. Today, the Porch Bulb Project’s work goes beyond spiral-shaped light bulbs, offering to revamp homes with the latest green technology — all for free. To date, 4,500 volunteers have swapped out 21,400 front porch bulbs, completed 2,480 home energy assessments, made major energy improvements (like adding insulation or replacing furnaces, water heaters or refrigerators) in 1,132 houses and planted 2,660 trees. “The light bulb just became the foot in the door for a bigger conversation about climate change,” says Wendy Hawthorne, executive director of the Porch Bulb Project.
When Okerson first started knocking on doors, she had a dim view of how quickly Americans could change their ways. “People are lazy,” she remarks. “It isn’t going to happen in my lifetime that the seas will rise and everything will go to hell in a hand-basket… It’s not a crisis in their face.” Yet when Okerson last went out to with a Porch Bulb Project delegation, she noticed many houses with CFLs already lighting their entryways. “Okay, so we have done something,” she thought to herself. “That’s a really good feeling.”
Hopefully that feeling will keep these environmental soldiers dedicated to their mission for a long time.
MORE: Can Americans Accept This Environmentally-Friendly Burial Method?

7 Environmental Disasters That Are No More

On the eastern edge of Niagara Falls, N.Y., 100 homes and a public school stood on Love Canal — an unfitting name for a ditch filled with industrial waste that had been covered over with earth and sold for $1. The three blocks of working-class households looked like any other community, but in basements and backyards, residents found carcinogenic compounds seeping through the soil, leached out of the rotting drum containers buried underneath.
“Trees and gardens were turning black and dying. One entire swimming pool had been popped up from its foundation, afloat now on a small sea of chemicals,” recounts Eckardt Beck, an EPA administrator in the 1970s. “Everywhere the air had a faint, choking smell. Children returned from play[ing] with burns on their hands and faces.”
The environmental calamity at Love Canal prompted officials to launch a national cleanup of the country’s most toxic wastelands. The program — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund, named for a trust fund bolstered by taxes on petroleum and chemical products — promised long-term remediation for dangerous sites and gave the agency power to bill offending companies for the costs. Since its inception in 1981, 387 sites have been officially cleared. But chronic underfunding — the petro-chemical taxes expired in 1995 — has weakened the EPA’s efforts. Most funding goes to less than a dozen major projects, even though there’s still 1,322 sites in need of further detox, according to an EPA spokesperson.
Despite the odds, here are seven projects that prove a cleaner future is possible and that the residents of Love Canal didn’t suffer for naught.

The App That’s Making Roadways Safer for Both Drivers and Pedestrians

Larry Stevenson, a former member of the Denver Police Department, believes that no car accident victim should ever be left bleeding in the street as a perpetrator speeds away.
Yet this is exactly what happened within the greater Denver area more than once a day: 446 people were injured and 22 were killed by hit-and-runs in 2014 alone. That’s why Stevenson proposed a simple plan to solve the most elusive of crimes. Similar to the Amber Alert system for kidnapped children, Colorado mobilizes law enforcement, bus and taxi drivers and regular motorists to catch offenders fleeing the scene of an accident. Known as the Medina Alert, Stevenson’s ingenious idea led to arrests in 14 of the 18 serious hit-and-run cases in which the alert beamed across the Mile High City, he says.
“Since we started, there’s been 12,000 hit-and-runs [in Colorado]. Imagine if it were 12,000 stabbings. Don’t you think we would know about that?” Stevenson says. “We have to sound the alarm. This stuff is happening right in our community.”
Not every car accident prompts a Medina Alert to be issued. A hit-and-run has to result in serious injury or death and be considered solvable, meaning witnesses know the car’s make and model, copied a partial license plate number and may have caught a glimpse of the driver. “It can’t just be a grey car,” Stevenson explains. “But if it’s a grey, two-door Toyota with damage to the front right driven by a Hispanic male and the license plate contains 395 [for example], we can work with that.”
If a case meets the criteria, details are shared across the state. They’re radioed to police officers, mentioned on radio and TV broadcasts, flashed on highway signs and passed on to citizens through email, text, social media and the Medina Alert phone app. Suddenly, the criminal who thought he could drive away unnoticed has the entire state hunting for him. [ph]
Last week, while speaking with NationSwell by phone during a short break from testifying at the Colorado State Capitol, Stevenson added a word of warning: “Just because you release [an alert], doesn’t mean you’re going to solve it. There’s still some out there.” Earlier that morning, a hit-and-run had killed a 42-year-old pedestrian. The accident (which is still unsolved more than seven days later) seemed to weigh on his mind. “Each case is very personal for me,” he says. “It’s a roller-coaster of emotions. But when you solve one, there is no greater feeling than to tell a mother, ‘We found your child’s killer.’ It’s a sense of relief and joy that they don’t have to relive this every day. Their loved one can finally rest in peace.”
Stevenson’s involvement in the alert dates back a program called Taxis on Patrol (TOP), which trained cabbies to be “extra eyes and ears on the streets, calling in crimes or traffic accidents.” Within hours of the program’s official launch in January 2011, the inaugural call went out after a hit-and-run turned fatal. Jose Medina, 21, had been working his first shift as a nightclub valet when he was plowed down by a drunk driver in an SUV.
A taxi driver who’d completed the TOP program witnessed the collision, followed the vehicle and wrote down the license plate number. After some quick police work, authorities tracked down Norma Vera-Nolasco, an undocumented immigrant with a history of hit-and-runs, in Phoenix, on an airliner that was just seconds away from takeoff out of the country. She’s now in prison serving the maximum 12-year sentence.
After his wife suggested the idea, Stevenson came to realize that stopping crime required help outside of law enforcement. He set to work drafting plans for the Medina Alert, named in memory of Medina’s tragedy. “Hit-and-run accidents are one of the most unsolvable crimes. You are looking for a ghost,” Stevenson told The Denver Post at the time. “We can’t always expect law enforcement to fly in with the red cape and solve the crimes. We have to do our part.” After higher-ups at the local police department bought in, the alert system commenced in February 2012.
In March 2014, after seeing the results in Denver, state lawmakers near-unanimously agreed to give Stevenson access to the Department of Transportation billboards and expand the alert across Colorado. “It doesn’t cost us a lot of money, but it allows us to dramatically increase our ability to apprehend criminals,” says Gov. John Hickenlooper. Since the bill was signed, seven alerts have gone out, and five have been solved, Stevenson reports. His next goal is to extend the statute of limitations, giving detectives a decade to track down the culprit in cases of serious injury and an unlimited window for deaths just as they do for homicide cases.
Beyond the Rockies, Stevenson is now advocating to take the program nationwide. He’s met with interested leaders from the states of Washington, Utah and Arizona as well as the cities of Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Oklahoma City and Philadelphia.
“The goal for me personally is to see the alert in use in all 50 states,” he says. Once it becomes established, it can change the culture on the nation’s roads. “If you know that everybody around you could be watching and reporting, we can play a part in preventing these horrible accidents.”