Inflation over 30-plus years has greatly reduced the purchasing power of $1,000 in today’s economy, so would a tipster be more willing to call police and report a crime if that sum were multiplied by five?
That’s what board members of the Chesterfield County Crime Solvers program believe, and they took their idea to Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who on Saturday announced that, if he’s reelected, he will introduce legislation in 2020 that would allow Crime Solvers and Crime Stoppers organizations across the state to raise their maximum reward payouts to $5,000.
Reward funds now are capped at $1,000 because that’s the maximum allowed under state law without the recipient having to pay taxes on the sum. A dollar more and they would be on the hook for taxes, and would have to identify themselves on tax forms to declare the sum. Many tipsters provide information anonymously.
The maximum reward payout has remained unchanged since many of Virginia’s crime-tip programs were started in the mid-1980s. Officials believe that offering $5,000 tax-free for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of criminals may convince more people to provide tips to police.
“This is a critical need for the program to continue to see the great success it has had since 1984,” Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard said of the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers program, which started in 1984. “As a 30-year veteran of the Chesterfield Police Department, I was there when Crime Solvers was created and worked with it ever since.”
“Crime Solvers has helped keep Chesterfield and Colonial Heights safe by taking bad people off the street through confidential tips,” Leonard added. “However, in the 35 years since its inception, times have changed while the maximum reward has stayed constant. This change … is extremely beneficial to keeping Crime Solvers the valuable program that it is today.”
Cox said the legislation “will offer more incentive for those with important information to come forward,” while simultaneously helping law enforcement to “close more cases” for crimes ranging from vehicle break-ins to murder.
Cox faces Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman, a real estate agent, in the Nov. 5 elections.
The reward funds for crime-tip programs are raised entirely through private donations, and the local, civilian-run boards that administer the programs have sole discretion on whether to raise their payouts.
The legislation is expected to receive bipartisan support and would result in a “very small impact” to state coffers by allowing tipsters to receive a larger non-taxable payout, said Parker Slaybaugh, Cox’s spokesman.
“From the folks we talked to, it does seem to be something that both sides [can agree on], when you look at it having very little fiscal impact,” Slaybaugh said. “And the other nice thing about it is that it’s optional. So if you have a town that has a smaller Crime Solvers group — who may not be able to afford the $5,000 — it’s not mandatory.”
Maximum payouts are the exception rather than the rule for crime-tip programs. The amounts awarded can vary based on the type of crime and the significance of the tip, and the information has to be especially good to get the top amount.
The Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Crime Solvers program, for example, made just five $1,000 payouts in 2015 out of the $21,015 in rewards approved that year for tips. No $1,000 payouts were awarded last year, but three have been awarded so far this year, according to organization data.