How Much Should Philly Pay to Catch Your Killer?

Mayor Nutter aims to close murder cases with cash-rewards program. Because why would you help your community for nothing?

Since people don’t do the right thing anymore just for the sake of doing the right thing, it seems that we’ve got to pay people to nab murderers these days. It’s not enough to get ruthless child-killers off the streets. No, folks want to go on cruises and buy 70-inch 3D LCD TVs in exchange for their information. And yesterday afternoon in Strawberry Mansion, Mayor Nutter announced that reward money is going to be a big part of his new crime plan.

The city wasn’t always in the reward money business, which used to be left to the police department and the Citizens’ Crime Commission. But new to the city’s budget for fiscal year 2012, there’s $500,000 to put toward rewards, and the city has begun doing that.

Back in August, Nutter offered the first of the rewards: $20,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the idiot who shot up a rec center with a semiautomatic weapon during a basketball game, wounding six. In September, it was $25,000 for the murderer of three family members killed inside their West Philadelphia grocery store. This year, Nutter has already put up money on three occasions: $10,000 for a North Philadelphia homicide; $15,000 to catch the bastard who killed the owner of a Chinese restaurant in front of his family; and $10,000 in the case of the Old City murder of Kevin Kless, the only one of the five to have been answered with an arrest.

The mayor said yesterday that going forward, up to $20,000 in reward money will be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any killer. Exactly how the city will determine how much justice for one murder victim is worth versus another is unclear. Granted there were six people injured in the August rec center shooting, but none died, though the reward money in that case was $10,000 more than in the Chinese restaurant murder.

However the money is spread around, it sure sounds like the $500,000 budgeted is never going to be enough. There are at least 100 unsolved homicides from 2011, and with the lowest reward so far at $10,000, the city would need a minimum of $1,000,000 to evenly distribute the offered funds in hopes of leads in those open cases alone.

But as illustrated in the above cases, even $20,000-plus doesn’t seem to cut it. It’s hard to imagine that there’s not a single person from the rec center that night who has some inkling of the shooter’s identity and who could use 20 grand in his pocket. Then again, a tipster wouldn’t actually see that money until conviction, and after taxes, well, the kind of person who wouldn’t turn over information without an incentive would probably blow said incentive at SugarHouse in one weekend.

I’m sure that coming up with even the paltry $500,000 for the reward coffer wasn’t easy in this cash-strapped city. But wasn’t Nutter able to find nearly that much from anonymous donors in a matter of days to get rid of Arlene Ackerman? The former school district queen was surely a scourge, but even she can’t trump the murder epidemic.

And wait a second. Didn’t a bunch of Philadelphians come up with $30 million several years ago to keep a certain piece of art in town? The stop snitching mentality is a problem, for sure. But everyone has their price. We may just have to deaccession a few pieces of artwork. What do you think the Pawn Stars guys would give us for the Liberty Bell?