McGruff & Co.

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If charm alone could prevent crime, then Jack Calhoun’s 21 years as head of the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) could be credited with taking many bites out of crime.

Calhoun, the NCPC’s sole executive since its founding in 1983, recently announced that he and the NCPC’s ubiquitous mascot, McGruff the Crime Dog, will be unleashed from each other when he retires in May.

Calhoun’s admirers are many. Even those who criticize his leadership of the D.C.-based organization are easy on Calhoun himself, while skeptical of the overall contribution the NCPC has made to the criminal justice and youth development fields. Results or not, the NCPC had grown to a staff of 54 and a budget of $16.5 million by 2003.

To Irv Katz, president of the National Assembly of Health & Human Services Organizations, and of its 46-member National Collaboration for Youth, Calhoun is a renaissance man. Robbie Callaway, senior vice president of the Boys & Girls Club of America, says he has “a great deal of respect” for Calhoun who, like Callaway, is in the rarified ranks of those who capture multimillion-dollar national staffing grants via congressional earmarking.

Some anti-violence activists are not so effusive in their praise of the often gun-shy (about gun control) Calhoun. Offers Mike Beard, president of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “He did the best he could under the [national and political] circumstances.”

In a 1989 edition of NCPC’s newsletter, Catalyst, Calhoun quotes William James: “The deepest hunger in humans is the desire to be appreciated.”

Straight Mission on A Meandering Path

Calhoun’s path to appreciation is marked by a consistent concern for children – especially, as the graduate of the Episcopal Theological School might say, for the poor children among us. Calhoun’s first job was as a teacher in Philadelphia, but he soon abandoned the confining culture of the schoolhouse for the more creative and entrepreneurial world of youth work, going to Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), an anti-poverty program. There Calhoun recruited for the Job Corps, and rose to become ABCD’s guy to put together new programs, often for youth.

After further learning the arcane science of how to win government funding in the juvenile and criminal justice fields, Calhoun launched the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) in 1973, modeling it on the work of New York’s VERA Institute. Today the agency, directed by Susan Wayne, is one of Massachusetts’ largest youth-service providers, with a 2004 youth-serving budget of $60 million.

Calhoun’s business timing was excellent, as the commissioner of the state’s Department of Youth Services, Jerry Miller, was administering mandatory shock therapy to the commonwealth’s juvenile justice system. Miller abruptly closed most of the state’s youth lockups, contracting more services to groups such as JRI. He paid for it with his job. The next commissioner, Joe Levy, also fought with those who opposed moving delinquent youth to community-based agencies – and soon he, too, was a former commissioner.

Enter Calhoun, who was appointed commissioner by Gov. Mike Dukakis (D) in 1976. As the new commissioner, recalls Barry Krisberg, president of the Oakland, Calif.-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), Calhoun had ample opportunity to turn back the reform clock, but he stayed the course. Calhoun “made a tremendous contribution” and deserves “full credit” for making the state’s deinstitutionalization policy for juveniles a success, Krisberg says. Bill Lyttle, then and now the executive director of the Key Program, based in Framingham, recalls with fondness Calhoun’s professional accessibility and passion for serving Massachusetts youth.

In late 1979 President Jimmy Carter appointed Calhoun commissioner of the U.S. Administration for Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). He lost that job with Carter’s defeat by Ronald Reagan. But while at HHS, Calhoun helped shape the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which supporters ardently believed would work miracles in foster care and adoption. As liberal orthodox policy prescriptions met political and social reality, Calhoun was able to observe the law’s unfolding implementation at close hand as vice president for public policy in the Washington office of the Child Welfare League of America. When CWLA announced it would move from New York to Washington in 1984, Calhoun began looking for an opportunity to once again be the guy in charge, albeit somewhere else.

Harry Truman famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Calhoun did one better. He got a dog that could hunt for cash and pay for his own keep.

‘The Most Successful’?

McGruff was sired in the late 1970s by the Ad Council, the NCCD and an umbrella group known as the Crime Prevention Coalition. Internal rifts within NCCD soon left the venerable but anemic group in the doghouse with its major donors – and McGruff with a new master. McGruff just didn’t hunt well with NCCD and its state affiliates. They were promoting progressive and specific crime-control policies, not broad appeals to the general public presented in such an innocuous way that even Smokey Bear would approve.

In 1982, after a successful public service announcement (PSA) campaign with the dog, NCCD chair Carl Loeb, fellow board member Mary Whyte and others launched the NCPC as a separate entity devoted exclusively to crime prevention. They hired Calhoun in early 1983.

Calhoun found that the leashless McGruff was baying for many masters. For example, recalls Krisberg, California Attorney General George Deukmejian was holding rallies with McGruff to build public support for mandatory minimum jail sentences for juveniles and adults. In the mid-’80s, the Reagan administration and Attorney General Ed Meese were at full throat in the campaign to stop crime through accelerated incarceration. No wonder Calhoun, the former Carter and Dukakis appointee, treaded carefully. Guns and their regulation were airbrushed from the NCPC anti-crime picture. Child abduction loomed in NCPC literature as a greater threat to kids than lethal violence.

In his letter announcing his retirement as CEO, Calhoun cites the McGruff branding campaign as “one of the most successful – if not THE most successful – public service advertising ventures in American history.” Hyperbole, but a 1993 evaluation of the McGruff social marketing campaign found that 80 percent of adults recall hearing or seeing McGruff in action. Whether or by how much McGruff & Co. has cut crime is unknown. Like many congressionally endorsed groups, NCPC is arguably overfunded, but definitely underevaluated.

In a 2001 speech before the Ad Council (which NCPC paid $527,887 in 2002 to produce PSAs), Calhoun acknowledged the difficulty of measuring the media’s educational impact, saying, “The older I get, the more I believe that public policy is made by exhaustion or hysteria.”

The artistic creator of McGruff was adman Jack Keil. Maybe NCPC got the wrong mascot from Keil. He also created Coco Puffs’ Cuckoo Bird, a more apt symbol of how national crime prevention and youth development policies are created.

McGruff is easy to trash as just so much hot air. In fact, among the assorted key chains and T-shirts peddled by NCPC is a trash can embossed with McGruff’s mug. And McGruff has had his very own hot-air balloon, last reported to be soaring over South Dakota. Some 850 products are licensed by McGruff’s owner. In fiscal 2001, licensing royalties brought NCPC $348,850. That money, says Calhoun, is used by agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to pay for the Ad Council’s work.

The NCPC’s greatest preventative move came against the crime-like curse of bankruptcy. In 1986 it received its first congressional earmark, which was less than $500,000. Recipients of these noncompetitive awards are essentially beyond the reach of the federal agencies that administer them. An anonymous 2002 poison-pen letter from an NCPC dissident staff targeting Calhoun and his deputy, Jim Copple, entitled “Exposed by the Little People!” puts it well: “As a line item the Bureau of Justice Assistance [within the Justice Department] cannot really do much about what NCPC does with its funding (approximately $6 million annually) – it is basically up to NCPC.”

Calhoun, who earned $184,800 in 2002 (modest by K Street standards), is emphatic that the ongoing earmarks are “absolutely critical” both to NCPC’s survival and as “a statement of national commitment to crime prevention.” In a memo to NCPC’s board on the important characteristics of his successor, Calhoun writes, “The earmark is our anchor.”

But that unfettered freedom of action has not much emboldened NCPC. To Sandy Newman, president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and a Calhoun admirer, NCPC “has a lot of constraints on its advocacy because of its federal funding.”

Well-exercised or not, NCPC’s circumscribed “freedom” doesn’t come cheap in a town where the interests of Capitol Hill appropriators and K Street lobbyists are increasingly entwined. NCPC’s federal tax returns through September 2002 quantify the steadily growing cost of winning federal largess: In fiscal 1998 the group reported spending $54,465 on hired guns. By fiscal 2001, that amount had risen to $118,000 paid just to the Beacon Consulting Group, where Gordon MacDougall, a former aide to former Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), plies his trade with considerable success. Another lobbying shop, American Continental Group, was paid $128,381 in 2001 for “legislative research” under the direction of Thaddeus Strom and Shawn Smeallie, which resulted in the rural-oriented Crime-Free Communities Act (which has never received a cent in appropriations).

Yet the overall return on investment in hired lobbyists would satisfy all but the greediest investor. In 2001, NCPC’s federal funding totaled $8,554,000, including two large congressional earmarks. In fiscal 2003, NCPC received $5 million for a “specified core campaign” and $1.25 million for something called Teens, Crime and the Community, described as “an effort to educate youth about crime and engage them in action projects that improve safety in their schools and neighborhoods.” It splits that pot with Street Law, a Silver Spring, Md.-based law-related education group with a staff of 20 run by Ed O’Brien, which also thrives on its congressional influence.

In the just-released federal budget figures for fiscal 2004, NCPC’s core $5 million was renewed by Congress, but its Teens, Crime and the Community earmark was slashed by half.

In addition to NCPC, both Beacon Consulting and American Continental have other clients in the children and youth field for whom they work the halls of Congress. Beacon counts among its paid customers Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Public/Private Ventures, both based in Philadelphia; Civic Ventures, based in San Francisco; Metropolitan Family Services, Chicago; Horizons Initiatives, Boston; Center Point, Inc., San Rafael, Calif.; Friends of the Children, Portland, Ore.; and Westcare Foundation, Las Vegas.

The American Continental Group lobbies for Boys & Girls Town, based in Nebraska; the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington; the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum; and Scholastic, based in New York. Even Harry Potter, published by Scholastic, needs a paid lobbyist to work congressional magic.

Dogged Effort

Through the past two decades of political change at the White House, Congress and the Justice Department, Calhoun has pursued two overarching goals: Make crime prevention a community-wide responsibility and promote positive youth development.

During a recent interview in his K Street top-floor corner office – wrapped in glass and a classic Washington power wall of photos, awards and other trophies – Calhoun recalls that in 1983 crime prevention was viewed as an individual effort, stoked by fear and focused on locks, lights and alarms. Now the field’s emphasis is also on neighborhood and community-wide approaches. “Everybody can do something,” he offers, not just the cops.

But the “something” that has been Calhoun’s near-obsession is in changing the public’s view, fed by the media, academics and politicians, of young people as a menacing presence. In a May 1986 New York Times op-ed, Calhoun wrote, “Society is faced with a choice. We can continue to deal with pathologies and delinquencies, treating symptoms instead of addressing the core issues. Or we can rethink and rework the attitudes and myths about adolescence.”

The country made the choice, but not the one Calhoun urged. Instead of giving “our youth the opportunities to explore and integrate themselves into the social fabric they will share with adults,” as Calhoun had written, public policies toward errant teens have grown increasingly unforgiving. On Calhoun’s NCPC watch, much to his regret, most states made it easier to try youths in adult court, zero-tolerance policies in schools became the norm and strict social controls such as curfews became entrenched, especially for poor youth.

In part to break that trend, Calhoun launched Youth As Resources (YAR) in 1987 as an empowerment and leadership program based on the premise that when treated as a resource, teens “can and do make a difference in their schools and neighborhoods.” Only in Indiana, where it is funded by the Lilly Endowment, has YAR done financially well. In 1992 YAR became a separate nonprofit with Calhoun as board chairman. But it came back to the fold two years ago and is housed in NCPC’s Washington offices with a budget of “less than $500,000” and a staff of two. It is directed by Shuan Butcher.

NCPC’s latest venture is among the faithful. In 2002 the Pew Charitable Trusts tapped NCPC to be the lead national agency in FASTEN, whose “vision is to strengthen and support faith-based social services, especially in distressed urban communities.” The $6.2 million grant is split among four partners: Baylor University in Waco, Texas; Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass; the Hudson Institute, with offices in Indianapolis and Washington; and NCPC.

Leading the project is Mark Scott, a minister and former staffer for Eugene Rivers’ Ten Point Coalition and the Ella Baker House. In 2001, Scott was recruited by superpredator prognosticator turned faith-based prophet John DeIulio to work for the Bush administration’s new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. With DeIulio’s fall from grace, Scott made his way to NCPC after a tour at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

FASTEN’s pride and joy is its website (www.fastennetwork.org), based at the conservative Hudson Institute.

Who’s Next?

The various media-pleasing assaults on youth during his career, says Calhoun, made him “furious.” But charm and a quick wit, not fury, are Calhoun’s strengths. Militants at either end of the political spectrum need not apply to be the NCPC’s second No. 1.

Says Whyte, one of the original group that joined Loeb in breaking off from NCCD to found the crime prevention council, “Keeping out of [partisan] politics” is essential to NCPC’s survival. Were NCPC to become too partisan, says Whyte, it would be “ruined.”

That hasn’t stopped informed observers from noting the growing penchant of Capitol Hill Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), to insist that key top jobs along K Street go to GOP-anointed candidates. Whyte recalls with angst the “absolutely divided” board of NCCD 20 years ago, which led to the crime prevention council’s break from NCCD. Today, a wide swing by the council to the right or (far less likely) to the left could bring about what Yogi Berra called “déjà vu all over again.”

Contact: National Crime Prevention Council (202) 466-6272, www.ncpc.org.