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Does reward money really help solve crimes?

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Does reward money for crimes really work, or are people giving information because they're sick of crime?

 Some say there is a stigma out there about people who are just giving any information because they want reward money. However, only good information results in catching criminals. WTOC asked Savannah Crimestoppers if reward money really works. Does it help?

"What I want to say is, yes and no," said interim director of Crimestoppers  Gianna Nelson.

The latest numbers show, in the last year, only between 20 to 25 percent of people eligible for rewards actually collected the money.

"What that tells us is they are not interested in the money as much as they are in giving information," Nelson said.

Yet, Crimestoppers has seen reward money totals climb in hopes of catching killers.

The question is: does it even matter?

"It does," said Nelson. "Especially in some of these homicides we've had where it's that one little piece of information where the detectives can't reach their arm around."

Nelson, a former Crimestoppers board member and crime analyst with Savannah-Chatham Metro Police, points to the Wesley Franklin murder as one of those cases. Brandon Mackey now awaits trial.

The reward money isn't all Crimestoppers money. Much of it is donations, earmarked for specific cases.

Businessman O.C. Welch, for example, has publicly donated to and collected thousands of dollars for numerous high-profile cases, including the Franklin case, and offering a $25,000 reward in the Rebecca Foley case in Savannah.

Nelson said she's seen tips submitted for the money and tips for the sake of what's best for the neighborhood.

"There's always going to be people who want the money, but there will also be people who have information, and if that information is valuable why not give them compensation for it," Nelson said.

"That wall of silence has been broken because people are fed up," Christopher 2X, a community activist in Louisville, Kentucky, said.

Christopher 2X described the situation in Louisville, which sounds very similar to Savannah's, where they have seen similar numbers for reward collections and the promise of anonymity is trumping money and attention.

"I'm just hoping that one day people won't have to use reward money as an incentive." Nelson said. "People want to provide information."

Nelson says the number of people collecting rewards has actually gone up, but is still much lower than any stigma associated with crime tips may lead you to believe.

"It has risen. It used to be 15 to 18 percent, but I think the economic conditions of the time give people the opportunity to put a little more cash in their pocket," Nelson said. "I think everyone should be rewarded for doing their part for the community."

As always, Crimestoppers is anonymous.

Nelson says it is not difficult to call in a tip or collect a reward.

They don't ask for a name. A tipster is assigned a number when they call in a tip. The code number is unique to them when they call in.

If they are interested in finding out if an arrest was made, they have to call Crimestoppers back. It is the same process when they go to pick up their reward.

Crimestoppers deposits reward money in a specified bank and the person is told what bank to go to. Each bank has a list of all the codes. They go to the head teller, give the code number and they give them cash.

Here's the catch: If a reward is not collected, it does not go back to Crimestoppers. It stays in the fund for the case the money was donated and specified for.

If someone calls in 20 years with a code number for a certain case, the money has to be available, which is why fundraising is so important for the nonprofit organization.

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