WICHITA, Kansas – Crime Stoppers pays thousands in rewards annually to anonymous tipsters whose information leads to arrests and convictions.
But in two recent cases, the tipsters were unable to claim their reward, and the reason why may surprise you.
Those who submit tips to Crime Stoppers are never identified and are not summoned to testify in court. But if a tipster reveals his identity, the protections in place go out the window, and a reward would be seen as a bribe.
“If we pay a reward to people who have provided information to Crime Stoppers and then become witnesses in the case, and testify in court, one could interpret that as Crime Stoppers paying for their tip, and we can’t have that,” Gordon Bassham, the executive director of the Wichita Crime Commission, which administers the Crime Stoppers program, said.
Since Bassham took over the commission in 2007, there have been two cases in which the tipster identified themselves in some way and forfeited the rights to a reward.
The first case was last July in the vehicular homicide of Lloyd Ferguson, hit by a car while he was riding his horse near 21st and Piatt.
A month later, when police received an anonymous tip locating the suspect car, the man who called in the tip identified himself to police and lost his tip ID number.
“They’re told to safeguard that, to not let anybody know what that tip number is,” Bassham said. “So if you don’t have your tip number, you can’t collect the reward from Crime Stoppers.”
The other involved a tipster in the Danielle Zimmerman case, robbed as she lay dying at a Taco Bell drive-thru in south Wichita last December. The woman who called in the anonymous tip that identified the suspects in the case also identified herself to Wichita police investigators.
“Because of that, there’s a high probability she will be called as a witness in the case,” Bassham said. “Because of that, we can’t pay her, because if we did, it would create the appearance that we paid for her testimony.”
Bassham says anonymity is the best way to safeguard tipsters in these cases.
“Please call Crime Stoppers if you have information about a crime or criminal,” he said. “But also, please stay anonymous because without that anonymity, we can’t honor you by paying you a reward for your tip.”
Reward money is paid in cash at a local bank so that there is no paper trail connecting the program to the tipster, and it is tax-free.