Firm Hopes Rewards Ice Criminals


    GRAND RAPIDS — Country Fresh Dairy has stepped up with the promise of cold cash for hard information leading to the arrest of suspects in brutal crimes in metro Grand Rapids

    Country Fresh, in cooperation with the Grand Rapids Police Department, will offer individual rewards of $10,000 through a program the company initiated Oct. 29 in the hopes of keeping the streets of Grand Rapids-area communities a little bit safer.

    Rewards will be posted for selected crimes, said Country Fresh General Manager Nick Kelble, and the company will have a say in which crimes it posts rewards for.

    Kelble said Country Fresh will work with the police department on selecting the cases that fit the criteria of the reward program. Those include the “most serious offenses,” such as murder and brutal assaults of the elderly, young children and others especially vulnerable to attack, he said.

    “It’s going to be a collaboration between us and the police department and, obviously, we’ll follow their guidance,” he said. “We hope our resources can help bring the worst of criminals to justice and provide a measure of relief to the families of victims.

    “There aren’t a tremendous amount of murders in our city, but there are more than what we’d like to see. Obviously, we’re not in a position to offer a reward for every single one of those circumstances.”

    Country Fresh will pay each reward directly to informants through whatever means the police department determines appropriate, Kelble noted.

    GRPD Chief Harry Dolan said he’s optimistic the program will prove effective, and said “it’s comforting to know a local company like Country Fresh is willing to provide its resources to help officers do their jobs.”

    The reward program is modeled after one implemented in the early 1970s between the Dallas Police Department and Schepps Dairy, a sister company of Country Fresh. Country Fresh and Schepps are both owned by Dallas-based Dean Foods.

    In the early ’70s, an employee of one of Schepps Dairy’s convenience stores in Dallas was killed during a robbery, recalled Ed Spencer, reward program coordinator for Dean Foods.

    “The Dallas police ran out of workable leads, so the owner of the company posted a reward and that reward resulted in the information coming in that led to the arrest and conviction of the person that killed this employee. That was the beginning of the program.

    “It worked so well in that case that the dairy continued to assist the Dallas police department by posting rewards.”

    Throughout the years, the program has continued to address what Spencer refers to as “the kinds of cases that pull at your heartstrings.”

    In the more than 30 years since inception of the Dallas program, Schepps has posted some $1 million in rewards and has paid out an estimated $250,000, Spencer said. He noted that including Grand Rapids, Dean Foods now has reward programs serving nine major metro areas across the country, and programs will be rolled out in two more cities this year. All are located in areas where Dean Foods has dairy production facilities or distribution centers, he said.

    “Historically, I think we’ve paid between 20 to 25 percent of the cases that we’ve posted rewards for. The reward amount we almost always use is $10,000, but there have been occasions when the reward was greater than that.”

    Country Fresh is working independently from the city’s Silent Observer program, which typically rewards informants up to $1,000.

    The company hopes that the higher-level reward will provide the added incentive that will encourage people to come forward with any information they have regarding suspects of “horrific” crimes.

    Kelble said GRPD has been “very receptive and very encouraging” about the Country Fresh reward initiative.

    “Obviously they are looking for anything that can help them in some of these cases to bring more information to bear sooner. We think it’s a win-win.”

    Country Fresh was established in 1946 and currently employs about 400 people in Grand Rapids. Its customer base extends to most of the independent retailers in Michigan and includes some of northern Ohio and northern Indiana, Kelble said.

    Country Fresh has dairy production plants in Grand Rapids and Flint. Parent company Dean Foods also owns Melody Farms in Detroit, Liberty Dairy in Evart and a production facility in Wayland, Kelble said.    

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