Editorials

Is a $10,000 reward the only way to convince people to care about violent crime in KC?

Police handcuffs lie on a lot of dollar bills. The concept of illegal possession of money illegal transactions with US dollars. Economic Crime
Police handcuffs lie on a lot of dollar bills. The concept of illegal possession of money illegal transactions with US dollars. Economic Crime

Kansas City has sweetened the cash reward for anonymous information leading to solved homicides from $5,000 to $10,000. A warning for tipsters: This is a limited time offer.

While the larger payout could spur more tips and ultimately reduce the number of unsolved homicides in Kansas City — a laudable outcome that everyone wants — it’s also a sad reflection on our city. First, because Kansas City’s rising homicide rate is what drove the city, along with the police department, to approve the additional funding.

Second, because large sums of cash are apparently required to get some people to come forward with information that could help the police. That’s discouraging.

Those who work in this field say it’s long been known that a certain percentage of the population needs incentives to compel them to do their civic duty when it comes to assisting police.

Yes, even if they can help solve a homicide. People will withhold information out of fear of retaliation (which is actually rare), an unwillingness to get involved and a lack of trust in police.

Cash is an antidote to such apathy. And apparently $10,000 does the trick in Kansas City.

On Friday, the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission and the police department announced the bump in reward money.

Late Friday, a man was shot at a South Kansas City 7-Eleven and later died. On Saturday, an anonymous tipster called the hotline. Later Saturday, a man was in custody.

Boom. The tipster will be eligible for the reward.

The city deserves credit for its willingness to step up financially with this remedy, which is not expected to be permanent. But cash can never replace consistent efforts to improve police-community relations. Encouraging cooperation and building respect are obviously the preferred route to stop crime before violent acts are committed.

Interestingly, 60 to 70 percent of anonymous tipsters never claim their cash reward, said Detective Kevin Boehm, Crime Stoppers Coordinator. In fact, many people specifically say they are not seeking cash when they call the hotline.

Boehm has analyzed data on tips and notes that higher payments (usually funded by donations aimed at solving a specific, often high-profile murder) are associated with about 10 percent higher clearance rates on homicides. And people are even more likely to not claim their rewards when the information they provide is given to close a suspected drug house.

In the short term, a five-figure payday for tipsters could be a step in the right direction to take murderous criminals off the streets. But cash rewards alone won’t solve the city’s violent crime problem.

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