A Baltimore city councilor is proposing a charter amendment to create a permanent fund to supplement cash rewards offered for tips in homicide and shooting cases.
The nonprofit Metro Crime Stoppers, which operates across much of central Maryland, now funds about $ 2,000 per reward. The Supplementary Fund for Arrest and Criminal Conviction, proposed in legislation from city councilor Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, would put in extra money for the rewards. If approved by council and the mayor, the fund will be presented to voters in Baltimore as early as the general election.
“There should never be a situation where a reward is less than $ 10,000,” Schleifer told WYPR in an interview. “Return on investment is, in my opinion, the best return on investment of any public safety dollar, because it only pays when results are achieved, while putting an end to the families of the victims and their communities. “
If approved by council and the mayor, an amendment to create the Supplementary Arrest and Criminal Sentencing Fund would be presented to city voters in the next general election. A subsequent law would specify the operational details of the fund, including the exact amount of additional liquidity.
The council’s Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the fund on Tuesday, where they heard from Metro Crime Stoppers, also known as MCS.
Metro Crime Stoppers operate in the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne counties. They operate a free 24-hour hotline and online platform where residents can provide information anonymously. MCS provides the information to relevant law enforcement agencies using an encrypted web-based program called P3, which assigns anonymous informants a PIN number.
“The only way to contact a tipster is by using this number,” MCS secretary Lee Miller told board members. “The police have the option of resending emails through the P3 system to these informants for additional information. … They can have this anonymous dialogue.
Informants use PIN numbers to identify themselves when contacting MCS, which may include receiving status updates on cases and, when eligible, arranging for receipt of a reward.
Local jurisdictions such as the Baltimore Police Department notify the MCS when information leads to arrests and convictions. MCS then pays out the cash rewards anonymously. From 2015 to 2020, MCS authorized $ 53,302 in rewards in Baltimore business. In 2020, 21 awards were authorized.
Miller said only about half of the rewards are claimed.
The nonprofit organization provides $ 2,000 of its own money for arrests in most felony cases. While the identity of informants and MCS’s communications with them are secure and anonymous, those who do not claim rewards fear retaliation, he said.
“The reason they don’t do it is because in general they’re scared. It’s our opinion, but they are mainly interested in helping solve the crime, ”he told the council. $ 2,000 “doesn’t really move the scale enough that people risk their lives.”
MCS Chairman Earl Winterling noted that informants who provide information relating to drug trafficking are “mostly those who do not claim the reward money.”
“There is always a fear of animosity, but it could also be an elderly neighbor who sees activities going on and she just wants to do the right thing,” he said. “We still have people in this world today who want to report things they see and don’t care about other issues.”
MCS raises reward funds through fundraising events such as oyster roasts and golf tournaments, Miller said. The organization also receives corporate donations, but these have dried up in the past 10 to 20 years, he noted.
The organization also receives additional funding to supplement MCS’s standard reward of $ 2,000 for tips related to certain crimes. Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake led a partnership to create an illegal high-tech line of guns.
“The program was intended to add additional reward money for violent crime where guns were used,” Winterling said. “Anytime there is a homicide in town, we offer a cash reward of up to $ 4,000, as long as there is a gun involved.”
Mayor Brandon Scott has set aside approximately $ 200,000 for MCS in his Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Miller said part of that will eventually be used to top MCS cash rewards: Tips for All homicides will be $ 4,000, while homicides for firearms will increase to $ 6,000.
The MCS also funds awards through individual donors, who may contribute directly to a reward fund for arrests of specific crimes that have impacted loved ones or loved ones, Miller said.
Schleifer praised Scott’s commitment to increasing rewards, but said his legislation would serve as a mechanism to codify larger sums and bolster fairness by ensuring that grieving residents do not have to rely on their networks to fund the rewards.
“What we’ve seen across town is a huge inequity in the amount of the reward based on the neighborhood it’s in or whether the governor sees your case on the news or not,” he said. declared during the hearing.
Governor Larry Hogan recently announced a reward of $ 100,000 for tips leading to an arrest in the murder of Evelyn Player, a grandmother who was stabbed to death in her church in East Baltimore in November.
City Councilor Robert Stokes, who represents the district where Player was killed, said many of his constituents have lost children to homicide.
“There are a lot of unsolved murders in the city and a lot of parents feel their children are just as important,” he said.
BPD Commissioner Michael Harrison announced an arrest in the event earlier this month. He noted that the arrest was made on the basis of DNA evidence, but many members of the community have come forward with advice.
The police department currently has a case resolution rate of less than 50% for murders and around 25% for shootings. Schleifer argued that his proposed fund would help detectives solve these cases more effectively and reduce overtime, while also signaling informants that their information and anonymity is valued.
Miller and Winterling said boosting cash rewards, along with raising awareness of the program’s anonymity, would result in more advice leading to arrests and convictions.
“The key is to have a program where everyone remains anonymous and to be able to offer a cash incentive to give them that extra motivation to make that call,” Winterling said.
Baltimore Police officials agreed. They testified in favor of the fund, saying it would prompt witnesses and those with information about the crimes to come forward.
“Increased communication could certainly improve the ministry’s ability to resolve cases and hold perpetrators to account,” Michelle Wirzberger, BPD’s director of government affairs, wrote in a letter to the Ways and Means Committee.
Department of Finance officials testified against the bill, noting that Scott had already set aside funds for the MCS and that the measure would not allow money not spent in the program to be used for other purposes. .
“The ability to reallocate funds between programs and services has been vital during this time to maintain basic municipal services and ensure a strong response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Budget Director Bob Cenname wrote to the committee. . “It might be more appropriate for an entity like the Baltimore Civic Fund to manage this special fund.”
The legislation will be presented to the full council for a preliminary vote in January.