In the past 12 months, at least $3 million worth of rewards in homicide cases in Los Angeles has gone unclaimed, nearly the total amount offered, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The inability of a $25,000 reward to overcome the fear of retaliation is disturbing evidence of the dimensions of Los Angeles’ gang problem, police say.
Out of at least 120 such awards offered in the past year, only two – for a total of $50,000 – have been paid. In scores of other cases, witnesses with useful information chose to remain silent rather than take cash.
Most of the unsolved homicides are street crimes that are seldom mysteries. The very nature of the crimes usually guarantees that there will be witnesses. Most of these shootings are committed in public, and part of the point is to enhance the reputations of the killers. People commonly watch as the shootings go down, then hear them bragging about them afterward.
But getting such witnesses to face defendants in court remains among the most difficult challenges in law enforcement. Living among gang members, or belonging to gangs themselves, the most likely homicide witnesses in Los Angeles typically fear being labeled snitches or turncoats. Not trusting that the system will protect them, they take the view that testifying could make them the next target, and that no reward is worth the risk.