Entrepreneurs Andrew Jacob and Peter Forhan talk about the rewards of raising money for the families of fallen officers through their business, Thin Blue Line USA. Wayne State Officer Collin Rose's death was a catalyst for a nationwide effort.
While studying at the University of Michigan, Andrew Jacob started his company to support law enforcement and give back
Ann Arbor — The “11.23.16” inscription was simple enough but its meaning was so much more for Karen Rose.
It marked the end of watch date for her son, Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose, who was fatally shot in the head in Detroit last November. Karen Rose wanted to remember her son by having bracelets made with that date on them.
So she called Thin Blue Line USA, an Ann Arbor-based online retailer that supports law enforcement, and was transferred to its 22-year-old president, Andrew Jacob.
To Rose’s surprise, Jacob didn’t charge for the 1,000 bracelets.
“I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me?’ ” she said. “It wasn’t what I expected.”
Rose had remembered her son enjoyed wearing T-shirts from Thin Blue Line USA. Its apparel sports an American flag with a blue stripe, deeply symbolic to law enforcement.
“Collin was a big supporter and got a lot of stuff from them,” she said.
Jacob and Pete Forhan, two friends who met on the West Bloomfield High School swim team in 2010, are the mind and muscle behind the online retailer, which has products in 95 stores nationwide and has donated 10 percent of its profits to law enforcement families and nonprofits that support police officers.
Their thin blue line symbol has several interpretations.
“One of the meanings is the black above represents citizens, and the black below represents criminals. So the thin blue line separates the two and maintains order,” Jacob said. “And there’s another meaning where the thin blue line represents law enforcement, and the black represents the fallen officers.”
After Collin Rose was killed on duty, Thin Blue Line USA started producing bracelets to honor fallen officers. This year, they’ve raised over $106,000 through bracelet sales and donated proceeds to 31 families, including Rose’s. In total, the company has given more than $160,000 to families and nonprofits.
Michigan State University junior Jake Bouchard, son of Oakland County sheriff Michael Bouchard, is their law enforcement liaison who calls departments of fallen officers and asks to organize a fundraiser in their honor.
“We do this for every officer killed in the line of duty,” explains vice president Forhan, 21, scrolling through their “Give Blue” webpage of bracelets stamped with names or end of watch dates.
The two friends have no family members in law enforcement and no ambition to join the force. They just want to give back.
“One thing that my dad always taught me was it’s important to do good business and good in the community at the same time,” said Jacob, whose father Joel Jacob is president of the Farmington Hills-based packaging and manufacturing company the Bottle Crew and started a college scholarship for children of West Bloomfield Township police officers.
Diving into a business
In December 2014, two officers were sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn when they were fatally shot by a man who vowed to kill officers in retaliation for Eric Garner’s death.
It was a “turning point,” Jacob said, in how Americans viewed police.
Coincidentally, he had designed a prototype for a thin blue line flag a few weeks before the incident. Jacob saw the logo had originated in the United Kingdom, and there was a patch but no products in the United States. So he created a 3-foot-by-5 foot flag with the blue line between black stripes.
For Battle Creek police officer Mikael Ziegler, 25, the logo represents “a bond” between law enforcement officers “who are all risking their lives everyday to help keep our communities safe.”
To get feedback, Jacob showed his prototype to Ziegler — his childhood next-door neighbor who always wanted to be a policeman.
“I definitely thought people would be very interested in buying that because community members want to show their support for law enforcement in their community,” Ziegler said. “It’s a very easy way to do that.”
Jacob had a factory overseas manufacture 1,000 flags and launched it on Amazon Prime soon after the NYPD officers died.
“It went viral,” he said. “People across the country were purchasing it. It sold out within the first three weeks, and that’s when I knew I was onto something.”
He said the flag was the No. 1 selling flag on Amazon on Sept. 5, 2015, (the day after the funeral for off-duty Texas deputy Darren Goforth) and again in July 2016 when five Dallas officers were killed by a man allegedly upset about police shootings of black men.
Forhan, a University of Michigan senior studying materials science engineering, joined in May 2016 to help manage the website and packing in the 6,000 square-foot warehouse.
“We’re both very efficient with our time,” said Forhan, explaining they’d attend class from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., then work 6-11 p.m. “Where someone will spend days and days studying, Andrew and I will spend a few hours, do comparably and put all those extra hours into work.”
Giving back to blue
For Karen Rose of Richland, Thin Blue Line USA has been “overwhelmingly supportive” of their fundraisers.
“Every time we turn around, they’re contributing money to Collin,” she said.
After Rose requested the bracelets, Jacob had an idea to start a fundraiser with them, which raised more than $4,000. Rose said they used the money to purchase a dozen K-9 unit safety kits, worth about $300 each, for K-9 officers.
“Collin had to buy his own safety kit, so our mission is to make sure that the officers in Detroit and the Kalamazoo area (have that),” she said.
The bracelets also kickstarted a new way to give back to families.
“It was the first time we had done anything for a specific person, as opposed to the law enforcement community as a whole, but it was really powerful,” Forhan said.
In early May, they flew to Tecumseh, Oklahoma, to present a $25,000 check to the family of fallen Officer Justin Terney, who was the same age as Jacob.
“I told them I was 22, and they were very shocked by that and surprised,” Jacob said. “And they started crying. It was very emotional.”
The family plans to use the money to start a Tecumseh K-9 unit, Forhan said, and Terney’s puppy will be the first canine trained for it. Bouchard, who joined the company in January, set up the fund.
Thin Blue Line USA has donated more than $10,000 to the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial fund, which supports 900,000-plus active American law enforcement officers. While other companies also donate, fund spokesman Steve Groeninger said Thin Blue Line USA’s mission is “very noble.”
“It is important that the entire law enforcement community hear and know that there are citizens and businesses who recognize and support their efforts to keep our communities safe,” said Groeninger, adding donations will benefit the National Law Enforcement Museum opening in Washington, D.C., in fall 2018.
Last month, Jacob and Forhan presented $2,500 college scholarships to four children of West Bloomfield police officers to give back to the community they grew up in. West Bloomfield Township Police Chief Michael Patton said actions like this boost morale in light of recent “turmoil about the role of law enforcement across the United States.”
“It helps remind the men and women in law enforcement that despite the rhetoric that they hear, which occasionally could be debilitating, that you are doing a good job and we do appreciate what you’re doing,” Patton said.
This fall, Jacob plans to move his headquarters to Detroit and find a larger warehouse for the growing 200-item product line and staff of 12. He also hopes Thin Blue Line USA is the first of many brands he plans to launch under Pointview Products LLC.
“We have a ton of ideas, and we’re confident that we can create them,” he said, as Forehan listed potential products that benefit veterans or feed the hungry.
“Some of our ideas, I think, will make a difference in the world,” Jacob said.
Where to find Thin Blue Line USA
Joe’s Army Navy Surplus, 32302 Woodward, Royal Oak
Harry’s Army Surplus, 2050 N Telegraph, Dearborn
Ann Arbor Arms, 45 Metty, Ann Arbor
Online at thinbluelineusa.com