Checkbook Justice: Police Snag Fugitives Using Big Bounties
Rewards go as high as $4 million for information leading to capture of terrorists.
In a criminal justice trend that seems straight out of the Wild West, US law-enforcement officials are increasingly posting bounties on the heads of suspected outlaws.Skip to next paragraph
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Wanted posters no longer encourage apprehension "dead or alive." Instead, they offer reward money - from several hundred to several million dollars - in exchange for information that leads to an arrest or conviction.
The crimes range from minor burglaries to acts of international terrorism. But the method being used to nab the alleged perpetrators is fundamentally the same: An appeal to the greed of a suspect's associates, friends, neighbors, or even family members by offering cold hard cash.
Money was the essential lubricant in the 1995 arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the suspected mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing.
It was the key ingredient in the apprehension last summer on the Afghan-Pakistan border of Mir Aimal Kansi, who allegedly killed two CIA employees outside the US intelligence agency's Virginia headquarters in 1993.
And it helped locate the suspected killer of Bill Cosby's son, Ennis, who was shot dead last January while changing a tire beside a Los Angeles freeway.
"Everyone would like to see the utopia where every person is a good citizen and when there is a crime they would come forward with any information they had. But unfortunately, in today's world that is not always the case," says Larry Wieda, a police detective in Boulder, Colo., who has been active in the Crime Stoppers tips program.
Formal reward systems are already in place in most US cities through Crime Stoppers. Under Crime Stoppers, anonymous callers qualify for rewards up to $1,000 if they provide information that helps police solve a crime. In addition, victims' families are increasingly posting their own rewards to help police solve a particular crime.
Checkbook justice isn't just operating locally. Since 1990, the US State Department has offered from $2 million to $4 million to anyone anywhere in the world providing information about terrorism, hijackings, or other acts of violence against the US and its citizens.
The department gets the word out with mini "wanted posters" printed on the back of paper matchbooks distributed throughout the Middle East. Ads announcing the rewards have been placed in a major Arabic newspaper, and the department maintains a Web site to publicize not only who is wanted but also how much money a tipster would receive for turning the suspected criminal in.
"We believe this program has saved thousands of innocent lives through people coming forward, providing us information that helped us resolve or prevent acts of terrorism worldwide," says Andy Laine, spokesman for the State Department's bureau of diplomatic security. "Through our program two-dozen terrorists have been jailed or killed in shootouts with authorities."
Recognizing the value of rewards, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is changing the way it conducts fugitive cases. Starting this year, the FBI is now offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any suspect listed on the bureau's 10 most-wanted list, says Steven Wiley, chief of the FBI's violent crime section.
The telltale tip
Sometimes a timely tip can save lives. At the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, US officials received information from a source in Bangkok that Iraqi intelligence agents were planning a series of terror attacks against US airliners departing Bangkok. The alleged terrorists had already stockpiled automatic weapons, grenades, and explosives, and were two days from carrying out a bombing at the airport. The advance warning helped US and Thai officials shut down the operation and forced the expulsion of several Iraqi diplomats.