bbrownell.jpgBill B. Brownell devoted his entire life to fighting crime.
The Iowa native moved to California with his family when he was 11 years old. After serving four years in the Navy, Brownell became a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A back injury sustained on the job caused him to retire from the force in 1968, but the desire to uphold the law and serve the public never waned.
In 1971, Brownell heard his teenagers discuss how easy it was for their friends to buy drugs. He asked why they didn’t notify authorities, and his children said they didn’t want to become known as snitches. Brownell and his wife Miriam recognized this was a genuine fear and responded to it by founding the WeTip crime hotline (800-78-CRIME), a service that allows people to anonymously report crimes or criminals. The Brownells incorporated the service in 1972 and expanded it nationally a decade later. In recent years, they launched two more tiplines (800-47-ARSON and 800-US-FRAUD) and a Website.
When a concerned citizen calls WeTip and tries to leave their name, the connection is terminated because only the unidentified can avoid being subpoenaed to testify in court. WeTip doesn’t use caller ID or cookies to identify tipsters; it assigns code names and numbers in case a reward is offered.
Since the service debuted 34 years ago, more than 420,000 tips have been called in. Information gleaned from the WeTip hotlines have led to 14,558 arrests and 7,387 convictions. More than $500,000 has also been awarded to people who called in with useful information.
Brownell died on May 13 of congestive heart failure. He was 71.
Listen to an Interview With Bill and Miriam Brownell