By Colin Preston
The University of Mississippi
As humans, we love to be rewarded – a gold star for doing well in school, a raise and promotion for an excellent job at work.
A reward can offer the incentive to help others. And rewards are used by law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes.
We have seen this method in Western films – a bounty given to capture criminals. However, it is still used today, as seen in the recent Jessica Chambers case. A reward was offered, though no one has stepped forward with information that has led to a conviction.
Dr. Jeffery Johnson, a former member of the Kansas Highway Patrol – Capitol Police, has a master’s degree in criminal justice and a doctorate in education. He teaches criminal justice and legal studies at the University of Mississippi. Johnson also has a gang specialist certification from the National Gang Crime Research Center.
Johnson said offering rewards in crimes often helps police.
“It could hinder, but many times it does help,” he said. “You will, at times, have so many phone calls coming in that the investigation is back-logged trying to sort through all of the information. It is great that folks are trying to give information, but there are those who are simply calling with information that may or may not be relevant.”
Johnson said reward money for criminal investigations comes from a variety of sources.
“That depends on who is wanting the information,” Johnson said. “If it’s a government entity, they have money in the budget. If it’s Ole Miss, then it’s the alumni. Some of it is private.”
The reward money offered in the Jessica Chambers case comes from federal law agencies, such as the U.S. Marshals Office, the FBI, the Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s Office and the nonprofit organization, Crime Stoppers.
Crime Stoppers is an organization that sometimes offers rewards for crime tips leading to an arrest.
Johnson said the amount of money offered depends on different things, including the severity and notoriety of the crime.
“I have seen from a few hundred dollars to millions,” he said. “For instance, look at how much money the government offered for the sons of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, etc. Compare that to JonBenet Ramsey.”
Money offered for the capture of Saddam Hussein’s sons was in the millions. The U.S. government has offered $25 million dollars for the terrorist, Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to a 1996 article published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, an award of $118,000 was offered for information leading to a conviction in the JonBenet Ramsey case. Ramsey, 6, was murdered in the basement of her home in Boulder, Colorado.
The reward in the Jessica Chambers case was $53,000 dollars as of January of 2015. The reward offer has increased with time.
Police do not always offer a reward to help solve a crime.
“I have seen (cases) where there is no reward and people just come forward to do the right thing,” said Johnson. “An award is an incentive. Usually the bigger the case, the more the money. Sometimes, the only folks who know the information have to be enticed to give up the information. In other words, it’s the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality.”
Johnson said rewards can encourage people to come forward, even if they are scared, or they can tap into greed. Ultimately, Johnson said he believes rewards are helpful.
“I believe so,” he said. “I, personally, am one who wants to do the right thing. Money, no matter how much it is, will not sway me. But we are usually looking at folks who need to be enticed because they have the information. As I stated earlier, we have to make it good for them.”
There is often someone out there who holds the key to bringing justice for a victim and their families. The rewards offered in the Jessica Chambers case may one day be claimed and her assailant caught.