Guest Commentary

Higher monetary rewards could help solve more homicides in Kansas City

An anonymous tip led to the arrest of a suspect in the homicide of Norez Brock, a 26-year-old aspiring musician.
An anonymous tip led to the arrest of a suspect in the homicide of Norez Brock, a 26-year-old aspiring musician.

Isn’t it worth $10,000 to arrest suspected murderers before they can kill again or commit another serious act of violence?

For the far too many of us — myself included — who have lost loved ones to senseless acts of violence and are awaiting justice, it is worth a lot more.

That’s why I was disappointed by the negative tone of The Star’s editorial last week regarding the city of Kansas City providing funds to increase the maximum reward from $5,000 to $10,000 for anonymous tips that lead to filing charges or the arrest of suspects for murders committed in the city.

I was even more disappointed in the headline, “Will cash rewards help reduce crime in KC?” The answer to that question is that of course they will. The only question is by how much.

The city’s brief experience with higher rewards for information about homicides indicates the decrease may be very significant.

In the few months since the maximum reward was increased last November from a paltry $2,000 to $5,000, two homicides have been solved through anonymous tips, according to the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline.

And look at what has happened in just the few days since the increase in the maximum reward to $10,000 was announced on April 27: Late that same night, Norez Brock, a 26-year-old aspiring musician, was shot at the 7-Eleven convenience store at 10615 Blue Ridge Blvd. He later died.

Police released a surveillance image of the suspect and asked anyone with information about the crime to call the TIPS Hotline. Crime Stoppers said it received numerous tips, and one particular tip assisted in the identification, location and arrest of a suspect in the case. That man, Theodist A. Lewis, is now in custody and faces charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Crime Stoppers has recommended approval of the maximum $10,000 reward to the anonymous tipster in this case.

The Star’s editorial was correct that higher rewards alone aren’t the answer to end the city’s horrendous homicide rate that has landed Kansas City among the 10 U.S. cities with a population larger than 250,000 with the highest homicide rates — a fact that should sadden and anger all of us.

But the higher rewards, coupled with the anonymity of the TIPS Hotline and the fact that tipsters aren’t required to testify in court to ease fears of retaliation, are at least part of the answer.

We should not forget that when the criminal justice system convicts and incarcerates murderers that victims’ families are not as tempted to take justice into their own hands.

The higher base reward also enlarges the total amount available when individuals and organizations donate to increase specific rewards. For instance, since a church, several elected officials and I donated $5,000 to the reward for information in the Jan. 20 shooting death of 9-year-old Dominic Young, Jr., that available reward now totals $15,000.

The Omaha Crime Stoppers program offers a $25,000 reward for information about any homicide that leads to an arrest. It reports homicide clearance rates that are much higher than Kansas City’s. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, and that’s why I suggested to Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith last September that we increase our homicide rewards to match Omaha’s.

My hope is that the other cities and counties in our metropolitan area will also commit funds to increase the maximum homicide rewards in their areas from $2,000 to $10,000, and that the civic community will step forward to increase the rewards to closer to Omaha’s level.

Our community can do better. Our police just need the right tools to do their job.

Higher rewards are among those tools.

John Sharp is the former chair of the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee of the Kansas City Council. His stepdaughter was a homicide victim in 2000.