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Bigger cash incentive for tipsters in Fort Myers v...
Bigger cash incentive for tipsters in Fort Myers v...: Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker supports an increase in reward money to generate tips. Video by Guy Tubbs
Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker

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The Fort Myers Police Department is hoping the lure of cash, and a lot of it, is enough to get community members to come forward when it comes to reporting violent crime in the city.

The department announced Friday it is offering $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in any of the city’s homicide cases.

The Police Department also is offering $5,000 for anonymous tips that lead to arrests of persons illegally possessing firearms, or who have committed robberies.

“I’m asking the community to step up, so I’m going to step up, too,” police Chief Doug Baker said.

Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers offers $1,000 for anonymous tips leading to arrests for crimes.

Crime Stoppers coordinator Trish Routte said the additional money offered by FMPD will be an effective tool in getting witnesses to come forward and report crimes.

“Extreme times call for extreme measures,” she said. “We are looking to do anything we can at this point to get violent offenders off the streets.”

There were 24 homicides in Fort Myers in 2012, the most in at least 20 years. The city saw 20 homicides in 2011, also a record at the time.

The city’s first homicide of 2013 occurred Monday when 27-year-old Kristopher Smith was shot and killed while dropping off his children at the Apostolic Revival Center and Christian School in Dunbar.

Baker said the offer is part of the department’s ongoing effort to get residents to come forward when they have information about crimes.

He said he recently spoke with the Police Department in Washington, D.C., and learned it paid out around $600,000 in a similar program in 2012.

He said it’s worth the money to get violent offenders off the streets.

“I’m going to take it, especially if it leads to an arrest and conviction, and we are able to hold someone accountable related to a violent crime,” he said.

Routte said offering the money for information on people with illegal firearms will help prevent future crimes in the community.

“People who are illegally possessing firearms are typically the people committing the robberies, committing the murders,” she said. “They are not walking around with illegal firearms for their own personal protection.”

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Fort Myers city Councilman Johnny Streets said he supports the Police Department offering the reward.

“It’s a substantial amount,” he said. “It opens up another opportunity.”

Streets said he’d like to look at adding more money to the $25,000 reward being offered.

In the past, witnesses have been reluctant to come forward with information on crimes in the city, whether it’s because of distrust with law enforcement or fear of retribution for speaking out, especially when it comes to violent crimes like homicides.

“We know absolutely there are people in the community who have information on these crimes but haven’t come forward,” Routte said. “Maybe the lure of $6,000 will encourage them to pick up the phone and do the right thing.”

She added the incentive of $25,000 in homicide cases will encourage witnesses to participate through the trial and conviction process, which has been a challenge for law enforcement in the past.

Baker said he’s talked with local legislators about proposing a bill in the next legislative session that will make victims and witnesses to crimes exempt from public records, so they will be less fearful about coming forward.

The reward money isn’t in the Police Department’s current budget.

Baker said the initial plan is to pay rewards with federal forfeiture funds. He’s confident he will have the support of the City Council and mayor if more money is needed.

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