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.
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
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
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
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. …