The reward for information about the killing of a Baltimore detective this week is among the highest ever offered in Maryland, criminal justice analysts said Friday.
But observers warn that such large sums — while potentially helpful — can sometimes carry a downside.
Federal, state and local agencies have put up a total of $190,000 for information about the gunman who killed Det. Sean Suiter. The 18-year veteran of the city police force was shot Wednesday in West Baltimore and died the next day.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration alone committed up to $100,000.
Though officials were not certain, many said they believe the reward is among the largest — if not the largest — ever offered in the state. The sum exceeds payments offered in several other high-profile crimes across the country.
“It’s the highest that I’ve seen,” said Earl Winterling, chairman of Metro Crime Stoppers of Maryland. His organization is offering up to $5,000 for information in the case.
No one tracks the size of law enforcement rewards, which often come from multiple agencies as well as private donations. And there’s no formula for setting a reward, so amounts can vary even for the same crime in the same community.
A $153,000 award was offered for information about the killing of a Philadelphia police officer a decade ago, according to news accounts at the time. Authorities in Georgia offered $130,000 this year to help catch two inmates accused of killing a pair of guards during an escape.
California officials offered $1 million for information leading to the arrest of Christopher Dorner four years ago. Dorner was a former Los Angeles police officer who killed four people. Officials are currently offering $100,000 to help catch an unidentified serial killer in Tampa.
The FBI routinely sets high rewards in international cases. The agency announced this fall that it would pay up to $5 million for information about Fausto Isidro Meza-Flores, an alleged Mexican drug lord commonly known as El Chapo Isidro. It offered $25 million for the capture of Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. government paid an Iraqi tribal leader $30 million for information that led U.S. forces to Uday and Qusay Hussein. The sons of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein were killed in a shootout with Special Forces troops in Mosul in 2003. The payout — $15 million for each son — is believed to have been the largest ever.
But, generally, rewards are far smaller. Federal agencies put up $20,000 for information about the killing of Tony Anthony Mason Jr., a District of Columbia police sergeant who was shot to death in West Baltimore this month.
Mike Blatman, vice chairman of Crime Stoppers USA, described the size of the reward in the Baltimore case as a “pretty substantial amount of money.”
Criminal justice analysts say the money can be effective in bringing informants forward.
“Putting the money out on the street does give that little push to someone who doesn’t want to talk to the police,” said Joseph Giacalone, a former New York Police Department detective sergeant who is now an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“Somebody knows something,” he said. “You just have to find that person and if it’s money that makes that person come forward, then so be it.”
John Jay lecturer Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York police officer and prosecutor, agreed.
“No question that that type of reward can incentivize those who have information to come forward,” he wrote in an email.
“A particular challenge in this investigation is a greater-than-ordinary fear factor amongst those who possess knowledge about the case,” O'Donnell added. “The murder of an on-duty homicide detective sends a chilling message within a community suggestive of the breakdown of law.”
After the riots of April 2015, then-U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein encouraged federal agencies to offer rewards to help identify participants.
But Rosenstein, now the deputy U.S. Attorney General, said the payouts can also have downsides.
"When rewards are offered to witnesses, we need to disclose that to the defense, and it can be used by the defense attorney at trial to question the credibility of the witness,” Rosenstein told The Baltimore Sun in 2015.
Giacalone said there are other challenges that accompany large rewards, such as making sure there is a coordinated effort to receive tips by the various agencies involved. Larger sums, he said, are likely to draw out far more information that detectives must sift through to find something useful.
As police search for a killer, the reward continues to grow. Hogan announced the state’s $100,000 commitment in a post on Twitter on Thursday. An aide said the money would come from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
Federal law enforcement agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are offering up to $69,000 leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
That sum includes up to $5,000 from Metro Crime Stoppers.
Winterling said the group received an anonymous $1,000 donation on Friday that will be added to the initial $4,000 it committed. The group, founded in 1981, receives most of its funding from donors.
Anne Arundel County officials said Friday that they will pledge $20,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
“Every Anne Arundel County citizen stands united with our neighbors in Baltimore City,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said in a statement. “We hope this commitment will lead to the information needed to make an arrest and bring justice for the family of Detective Sean Suiter.”
Suiter was shot Wednesday afternoon while investigating another killing in the violent Harlem Park neighborhood in West Baltimore. He died Thursday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.