Crime, it is said, doesn't pay. And, if the recession persists, calling in tips on crime may not either.
Volunteer groups that aid the police by rewarding anonymous crime tips are running low on money. They blame the recession and their own past success: More tips have led to greater payouts.
In Carroll County, where the program is called Crime Solvers, the next reward could break the bank, said Trooper 1st Class Buck Warfield, the State Police liaison to the volunteer program. Rewards can run as high as $1,000 and the account has dipped below that, he said.
Warfield said a seminar he attended last month for similar programs along the East Coast indicated that "we are not alone in having problems."
Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties use a program called Metro Crime Stoppers.
Its coordinator, city police Sgt. Jack Kincaid, said the budget has enough to pay rewards for six months, but acknowledged that fund-raising has fallen off in the past year.
"We're so successful solving crimes and paying rewards, you're continuously paying out money," he said.
The crime hot lines began in the Baltimore area 10 years ago, supported by contributions from local businesses and individuals.
The programs regularly advertise in local news media requesting tips on unsolved crimes. Informants may also call the 24-hour hot lines with information. The Metro Crime Stoppers' number is 276-8888. The Crime Solvers' number is 1-800-562-TIPS.
After supplying a tip, the caller is assigned an identification number and instructed to call back in a few weeks to learn whether the information has led to an arrest and a reward.
Last year, Metro Crime Stoppers paid $29,125, including a privately offered reward of $10,000 in one murder case. The tips helped solve 158 cases, 32 of them homicides and 64 armed robberies. Last year's payout was almost triple that of the previous year, partly because of more aggressive publicity, police said.
In rural-suburban Carroll County, where the crime rate is relatively low, tips have helped police recover nearly $500,000 worth of stolen property and more than $200,000 worth of illegal drugs over the past decade, said Warfield, who is stationed at the State Police barracks in Westminster. In all, the program has paid out about $14,000 in rewards.
In the past, Crime Solvers was able to maintain a balance of $8,000 to $10,000, Warfield said, often through board members making private solicitations and giving talks about the program to local civic organizations. But, he said, the slowing of the economy over the last two years and competition from other civilian-police cooperative causes have cut into Crime Solvers' contributions.
Both Crime Solvers and Metro Crime Stoppers elected new boards of directors last month that are now working on new ways to raise money.
Kincaid said Metro Crime Stoppers traditionally built its budget on the proceeds of an annual fund-raising dinner at Martin's West in Baltimore County. But a poor economy diminished the results of last year's function, Kincaid said. "We're not sure about the dinner this year," he said.
Instead, the new Metro Crime Stoppers board is talking with ""TC professional fund-raiser and considering the possibility of selling memberships, he said.