Amid a recent surge in murders in Philadelphia, Mayor John Street launched a program yesterday to reward anonymous tipsters up to $1,000 for leading police to gun criminals, the Philadelphia Inquirer says. Year after year, about 80 percent of the killings in the city are committed with handguns – giving Philadelphia the dubious distinction of having one of the nation’s highest rates for gun use in homicides. “We just can’t get a handle on it,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Robert Mitchell.
Street announced the illegal-gun initiative on May 1, the one-year anniversary of Operation Safe Streets, a crackdown on open-air drug dealing. In June, Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz made the recent increase in murders a campaign issue, calling the then-22.4 percent rise an “epidemic.” Since then, the difference has shrunk to 16.6 percent, with 168 murders as of yesterday, compared with 144 through the same time last year. A 24-hour hotline – 215-683-GUNS – has been activated. Callers will be given a confidential identification number. If an arrest is made, the tipster is rewarded – from $250 for catching a firearms violator to $1,000 for catching a trafficker or a person who has committed a violent felony.
How effective are these programs? “Not very,” said David Kennedy, a Harvard University researcher and expert on gun violence. Potential tipsters – a family member, a friend, or a victim – are disinclined to call a tip line, he said. The reasons could range from loyalty to fear. New York started a similar program in January 2001. By this April – when the reward was doubled from $500 to $1,000 – police had received 574 tips leading to 288 arrests and the confiscation of 133 firearms. Kennedy called that a paltry figure for a city so large.