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Do cash rewards help solve crimes?

There are two main reasons why people with information are reluctant to speak up: fear of retaliation and apathy.

PORTLAND, Ore. — You’ve probably heard the commercials on the radio, asking for anonymous tips to help solve crimes.

“Crime Stoppers offers cash reward of up to $2,500 for information reported to Crime Stoppers that leads to an arrest in any felony crime.”

Which got us wondering — with so many unsolved shootings in Portland, do these cash rewards work?

“It seems to be a motivator,” said Henry Groepper, a retired Portland police officer and chairman of Crime Stoppers of Oregon.

Crime Stoppers of Oregon started in 1983. Since then, the local nonprofit has publicized unsolved crimes by offering cash rewards. From 2010 to 2020, Crime Stoppers of Oregon helped solve 313 cases.

“The media is the secret to Crime Stoppers,” said Groepper. “The more media play out there, the more tips we’re going to get.”

RELATED: Crime Stoppers of Oregon offers cash reward for information about shooting that injured Portland bartender

There are two main reasons why people with information are reluctant to speak up: fear of retaliation and apathy.

Crime Stoppers allows people to remain totally anonymous by using the website or mobile app. A person is given a code number and never asked for their name, even if they collect the reward.

Credit: KGW Staff
Henry Groepper is a retired Portland Police officer and chairman of Crime Stoppers of Oregon.

“There is no way of tracking your email address or your cell phone number or anything like that,” said Groepper.

It’s difficult to pinpoint how much of a factor getting a reward plays in people calling in tips. Since they’re anonymous, you can’t go back and ask them.

But research has found cash rewards, no matter the size, helped raise awareness and motivated some people to call.

RELATED: Portland police asking for tips in 2014 double homicide

“Money might be what puts people over the edge if they are waffling. That may provide enough incentivizing for them to cross over,” said Dr. Arthur Lurigio, a criminal justice professor at Loyola University Chicago, who co-authored an evaluation of Crime Stoppers in the 1980s.

Lurigio explained the amount of the reward, whether it is $1,000 or $10,000, was inconsequential.

“We determined that the size did not make a difference in people calling,” said Lurigio.

RELATED: What we know about Portland's homicide victims from 2021

Recently, the FBI has offered rewards to help solve several shootings in Portland, including $15,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the murder of Dhulfiqar Kareem Mseer. The 23-year old was working as an Uber driver when he was ambushed and shot in Northeast Portland on Dec. 11.

The federal agency is also offering a $15,000 reward for information into the death of De’annzello McDonald who was shot and killed in Northeast Portland on June 11. There’s a similar $15,000 reward for information into the shooting death of 25-year old Curtis Smith on Feb. 25.  

The FBI offered $25,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for the fatal shooting of Makayla Maree Harris. The 18-year-old was killed near a line of food carts in downtown Portland.

The FBI said the Harris case received a higher reward because there were so many victims. Harris died and six others were injured in the July shooting.

Crime Stoppers sets its reward amount based on the severity of the crime, risk to the tipster and other factors.

The FBI doesn’t have a formula to determine the amount of a reward. Instead, federal authorities consider how much money might produce tips and increased publicity for an unsolved case.

Crime Stoppers requires an arrest to collect the reward, unlike the FBI which requires an arrest and conviction.

Even with a sizable reward and the promise of anonymity, people are often hesitant to share incriminating information.

“Nobody is excited about $1,000 or $1,500. It’s not even enough for the risk,” said Lionel Irving, a gang veteran.

RELATED: Are gangs to blame for Portland’s spike in gun violence? It’s not that simple

Irving, founder of the nonprofit Love is Stronger, which helps steer kids away from gangs, said people don’t want to be considered a snitch. The fear of retaliation is real.

“Their home gets shot up and kids get beat up,” Irving explained. “Yeah, it’s a very real thing. Portland is a very small city.”

Even though rewards may not solve every crime — there is value to the community. It shows the victims have not been forgotten and investigators are still working the case. If someone has information, a reward may give them the encouragement they need to come forward and provide an anonymous tip.

To provide a tip to Crime Stoppers, call 503-823-HELP (4357) or submit a tip online. You can also text a tip: Text CRIMES (274637) and type 823HELP, followed by the tip.

You can also submit a tip by visiting the App Store to download P3 Tips for your smart phone or tablet. 

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