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Crime Victims' Families Offer Rewards For Information


Remember those old wanted posters on TV westerns offering rewards for turning in someone wanted by the police? Well, now some families of crime victims are making their own wanted posters, offering to pay the rewards themselves. NPR's Cheryl Corley has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice for Isaiah. Justice for Isaiah.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: On a street corner in Maywood, Ill., a suburb west of Chicago, a crowd of relatives, friends and activists hold pictures of 19-year-old Isaiah Scott and flyers that offer a $5,000 reward. Scott was shot and killed last March, shortly after he talked on the phone to his girlfriend about going to prom.

KISHA STANSBERRY: And he died right here.

CORLEY: Scott's mother, Kisha Stansberry, says she raced to the parking lot of a dollar store after she saw her son dying on a live social media feed. Stansberry says the reward is for information leading to an arrest of the killer. She says there's word on the street about who that person is. And she says he posted threats to keep other kids afraid and quiet.

STANSBERRY: And it's shameful that I would have to put $5,000 out there for somebody to do what is right. That was the most horrific thing I've ever been through - to watch your child take his last breath on Facebook - Snapchat. They got him on a gurney on Snapchat.

CORLEY: Stansberry says, in large part, the reward money comes from parishioners at a church led by activist Chicago priest Father Michael Pfleger. Pfleger says they've had success paying out rewards in nearly 30 Chicago cases after arrests were made and police verified the information was useful. He says in other instances, they haven't worked. He says it's important, though, to continue to offer rewards.

MICHAEL PFLEGER: I've had people, three years after a murder, come with that reward flyer crumbled up they kept all that time. And they said, I'll talk. So whatever.

CORLEY: Law enforcement agencies have a long history of offering rewards in an effort to solve crimes, with the money sometimes coming directly from their budgets. The FBI's Ten Most Wanted list of tough fugitives has been up and running since 1950. The FBI now offers a minimum, a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to a direct arrest of anyone on that list. In the 1970s, there was a new effort using reward money, the media and citizens' help to fight crime.


BILL KURTIS: Anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers programs across the United States have prevented countless crimes.

CORLEY: Crime Stoppers rewards funded by public, private and corporate donations are typically up to $1,000 if a tip leads to an arrest. Larger rewards are often offered for more heinous crimes. Loyola University criminologist Arthur Lurigio co-authored an evaluation of Crime Stoppers during its early years.

ARTHUR LURIGIO: Our studies showed that it was getting an award that mattered, not so much the exact award figure.

CORLEY: And Barb Bergin, the chair of Crime Stoppers USA, says while the prospect of higher amounts of cold, hard cash for information can increase the number of tips coming in, it doesn't lead to more rewards being paid out.

BARB BERGIN: Nationally, we are seeing programs who are paying out as little as 15 to 20% of their available rewards. And I think the highest that you'll see across the country's somewhere around 60, 70% of their rewards get collected.

CORLEY: Professor Lurigio says it's impossible to determine how much of a factor Crime Stoppers rewards play, since everything is anonymous. He also says even with the reward, people are often hesitant to report a crime if it can cost them - being considered a snitch, for example, if turning in a relative, neighbor or friend. And then there's the risk of possible retaliation.

LURIGIO: People's houses are shot up. Their relatives are shot at. They're killed - witnesses are killed.

CORLEY: Still, Lurigio understands why people offer rewards, especially in high-crime areas.

LURIGIO: Putting out a reward gives them a sense of - some sense of, I'm doing something concrete, rather than, I am helpless.

CORLEY: Exactly why Kisha Stansberry says canvassing the neighborhood where her son, Isaiah Scott, died is so important. Before it gets dark, she and one of her son's longtime friends, Juan Ortega Perez, continue to hand out reward fliers in their push to get an arrest in the case.

JUAN ORTEGA PEREZ: People are traumatized. This hurts. It's all a moment of time. So even without the reward money, it'll happen. We'll find justice for Isaiah.

CORLEY: Isaiah Scott's mother says, though, if the $5,000 reward doesn't do it, she's willing to offer as much as it takes, since she knows there are people out there who can offer valuable information. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Maywood, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.