A new piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette examines the use of rewards in solving crimes. While offering money for tips isn’t new and is a practice used around the world, there is little evidence that it works—little data at all on how the rewards affect a case.
Countless variables make reward money difficult for criminologists to study, and law enforcement officials say they’ve had mixed results with the time-honored tactic. Monetary rewards can mean that investigators get bombarded with erroneous leads; they can cast doubt upon a witness’ motives during trial. Disputes can arise over how a bounty is paid out.
But police continue to rely on reward money as a means to draw out wary informants, sometimes those who can break a case.
The lure of a cash reward can help push a reluctant witness or tipster into sharing what they know. But it can also bring forth people with worthless and completely untrue leads.
Still, Pittsburgh Police Commander Ronald Freemand says they work. As an example he remembered on tipster who turned in his own mother in order to collect the money for his own drug habit. Now that’s good police work.
Some people are willing to share information regardless of the money. For them it’s an issue of doing what they believe is the “right thing.”
For others, offering tips could put them in danger, whether their personal safety would be at risk or they would simply be labeled a “snitch,” some are very reluctant to share information with the police. It’s these folks who can sometimes be swayed by a reward.
Crime Stoppers USA offers up to $1,000 in cash for tips. They say this has led to over 620,000 arrests since the program was started in 1976. Most of the tipsters, however, are lured more by anonymity than reward. Forty percent never call back to claim their money.
Police often depend on witnesses and people within the community to deliver tips in solving crimes. The people simply have more information. Getting that information, however, has always proved tricky.
Rewards are just one way cops can sway people into sharing what they know.
If you are accused or suspected of a crime, you may have gotten caught because someone “snitched” or informed the police of your role. Perhaps that person was unreliable. If so, your attorney can challenge the reliability of the information given to police.
Witnesses are often of questionable morals themselves.