Howard County police hope that a $250 reward will entice residents to pick up the phone to report illegal guns.
The program, called Project Cease Fire, went into effect late last month and is similar to hundreds of initiatives across the nation. Some have been successful in helping authorities track down illegal guns while other police departments say their tip lines have led to only a handful of arrests each year.
Howard police hope to avoid such a low total by publicizing their program heavily, which many say is vital in such efforts.
"Advertising is key. We have it everywhere, on buses, subways, streets," said Officer John Sullivan of the New York Police Department, which arrested 334 people for gun violations, seized about 230 firearms and paid nearly $115,000 in rewards last year.
New York police offer tipsters a $1,000 reward.
Howard is one of the few local police jurisdictions to offer a full-time, illegal-gun reward program. Baltimore County has a tip line but does not offer a reward, while Baltimore City operates a gun tip line only during some holidays. Anne Arundel police do not have a illegal-gun tip line.
Nobody expects Howard County, which averages a half-dozen homicides a year, to come close to New York City's totals, but police have begun distributing fliers and stickers to advertise the tip line: 410-313-4010.
The department received a $60,000 grant from the state and plans to spend a significant portion on public relations, said spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
"Obviously, we recognize that letting people know about the program is a significant component of the program," she said.
Callers can remain anonymous and will receive a code number that they can use to claim their reward if their tip leads to a gun seizure or arrest.
In 2001, the most recent year for which data are available, nearly 150 crimes involving firearms occurred in Howard County. Police are unsure how many of those crimes were committed with illegal weapons but note that they confiscated more than 850 guns in 2001.
Howard County police said they have not made any arrests from tips and declined to say how many calls they have received.
Other police departments that have tip lines but rarely make arrests say that they would like to publicize their programs more.
"Getting the word out has been a problem," said Sgt. Doug Holtz, who oversaw the St. Paul, Minn., Police Department's illegal-gun program.
Police have made only a "couple" of arrests thanks to tips during the past two years, Holtz said.
The Springfield, Ill., Police Department has arrested four people since it began a program in 1998 that offers tipsters up to $250, according to Officer Bill Neal, coordinator for the Sangamon/Menard County CrimeStoppers.
Neal tries to advertise the program on television and radio once a year, at least, but "we'd always like to do more," he said.