IT’S every Virginian’s civic duty to relay to law enforcement authorities any information they may have acquired about a crime that’s been committed in the commonwealth. At least, that’s the ideal.
In the real world, however, many crime-solving tips often don’t get reported to the police. Perhaps a person witnessed a crime, but is afraid to reveal that information to the police lest he or she be targeted as the perpetrator’s next victim. Maybe somebody who has the last piece of the puzzle is also engaged in various forms of criminal behavior and the last thing on earth they want is the spotlight shone on them. Or a witness mistakenly believes it’s “not my business” or doesn’t want “to get involved.”
It is for such reluctant witnesses that, for the past three decades, the nonprofit Crime Solvers program has been offering to pay any tipster who came forward to report a crime.
Spotsylvania County Crime Solvers Inc. offers $1,000 in cash and anonymity to people who provide information that results in the arrest of a suspect in an unsolved crime, recovery of stolen property or the seizure of illegal drugs. Individuals who call the group’s tip line (540/582-5822 or 800/928-5822) or report such information via the internet are assigned an identifying number. If the tip they provide pans outs, the Crime Solvers Board of Directors will arrange to pay the reward in cash while maintaining the tipster’s confidentiality, which is key to the program’s success. Tipsters don’t have to provide any personal information or appear in court to testify.
Stafford County Crime Solvers has a similar program, offering $1,000 and anonymity to anybody who calls the group’s 24-hour tip line ( 540/659-2020 or 866/493-1083), texts or provides information online that helps collar a criminal or solve a crime. The cash reward is “funded entirely by private donations from concerned citizens and businesses,” and administered by volunteers, according to the group’s website. Its motto, “Crime Doesn’t Pay—But Crime Solvers Does!” succinctly sums up the program.
Now some of the civilian boards that run local Crime Solvers groups in Virginia want to raise the ante, offering up to $5,000 for each tip that leads to the resolution of an unsolved criminal case—which would be the highest such reward in the U.S.
Proponents rightly point out that $1,000 doesn’t go as far as it did 30 years ago. The Chesterfield County Crime Solvers program has even asked House Speaker Kirk Cox, R–Colonial Heights, to introduce legislation to that effect next year, and Cox said he will if he’s re-elected in November.
Legislation is required because under current state law, cash rewards up to $1,000 are not taxed. Raising them up to $5,000 would trigger a tax reporting requirement, which would force tipsters to identify themselves, and thus threaten the program’s promise of anonymity. A spokesman for Cox added that raising the maximum reward would have very little effect on state finances and would apply only to Crime Solvers groups that can afford it.
The Virginia Crime Solvers Association, an umbrella group for 60 local programs in Virginia, says it would “fully back” the change. According to VCSA, in 2018, local chapters received 671 tips that helped solve 144 cases, with the total amount awarded just $8,419—for a return on investment of $58.46 per crime!
Raising the reward as high as $5,000 would still be a bargain because it would create a greater incentive for tipsters to come forward. That would not only save tax money by helping law enforcement close cases faster, it would also keep local communities safer by getting criminals off the streets.