Critics Say Big Crime-Tip Rewards May Be Ineffective


The numbers are meant to get attention and results: $267,000 in reward money from big-name athletes, business leaders and law enforcement agencies for information on the killer of a Broward Sheriff’s deputy. The city of Boca Raton offered a bigger reward, $350,000, to find the person who killed a mother and her 7-year-old daughter, says the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Experts warn that large rewards may undermine high-profile investigations. Bogus leads can overwhelm investigators. Bad information can taint court testimony. Disputes can arise over how much money was promised and how to claim it. Authorities can be seen as being discriminatory toward victims of other crimes for not offering bounties in their cases. “A big reward tells other victims that their crime is diminished,” said Dennis Jay Kenney, former police officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“Does a big reward give enough of an incentive than say a $2,000 reward? It’s not clear to me that it would,” said Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University. Neither the Broward nor the Boca Raton case has produced a suspect, but investigators consider big rewards an important way to generate leads. A $25,000 reward helped capture the killer of another Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy in November. Today, the highest rewards usually are reserved for the most egregious crimes, such as killing of children, elders, and police officers. Richard Carter of Crime Stoppers USA, an umbrella group, argues rewards above $1,000 can lead to fabrication.


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