- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

Cash rewards are having little effect in prompting witnesses to tell police what they know about unsolved homicides in the District, according to Metropolitan Police Department records.

Police offer a standard reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in any homicide in the city. But the police have paid out just 35 rewards totaling $473,500 since October 2002, according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

During that period, there have been more than 700 homicide cases in the city.

So far this fiscal year, which began in October, police have paid out six rewards totaling $102,500. During that time, there have been 90 homicides, including that of 9-year-old Donte Manning. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey authorized increasing the reward to $125,000 in Donte’s case, which remains unsolved.

Chief Ramsey said he is not disappointed in the low number of rewards. “Those are 35 cases that might not have been solved,” he said. “Some people have come forward that might not otherwise have come forward. It didn’t hurt us and I think we have to do all we can.”

The largest single reward police paid was $75,000 in fiscal 2005.

Chief Ramsey said the money for rewards comes from assets seized and sold by the police department. He said he relies on his detectives for recommendations about whether a witness deserves a reward.

Other cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore, work with nonprofits that raise money from the private sector. Los Angeles offers rewards in some specific cases, but officials require the authorization of the city council member who represents the area where the homicide occurred.

Most of the police departments in the D.C. area don’t offer standard rewards. They work with branches of Crime Solvers, where business and community leaders establish a local tip line and raise money for rewards.

About three years ago, the surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia came under the umbrella group National Capital Area Crime Solvers. The group has established a single telephone number, 866/411-TIPS, as a tip line.

Officer Shelley Broderick, a Fairfax County Police Department spokeswoman who coordinates the National Capital Area Crime Solvers, said that the program has been “hugely beneficial.”

Rewards for information for any unsolved crime run between $100 and $1,000. Officer Broderick said that the difference between a police department reward and the privately run Crime Solvers is that the private program has its own tip line. In Virginia, the tip line protected under law, which means that anonymous calls cannot be traced and callers cannot be compelled to testify.

Officer Derek Baliles, who coordinates Crime Solvers in Montgomery County, said the county closed 11 cases based on tips to Crime Solvers last year. He said the number of tips remains steady over the years.

Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York police officer and prosecutor, said there is no good reason not to offer rewards for information.

“It’s an information business,” he said. “You have to take the good with the bad.”

Mr. O’Donnell said some police departments don’t offer their own rewards because it can be a bad reflection on the detectives’ skills, because rewards for information are often associated with desperation.

Chief Ramsey disagreed: “If you don’t get anything, then you don’t have to pay. If you do get something, it’s worth it. All life has value. All we’re trying to do is demonstrate the importance we place on it.”

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