Trading Cash Rewards for Criminal Info: Does it Work?

The search for the escaped Mexican drug lord, “El Chapo” continues, now with an incentive for information. But does the offer of money and protection actually prove effective?

By Alexandra Hart August 10, 2015 10:14 pm,

The United States government has announced a cash incentive for information leading to the capture and arrest of the fugitive Joaquín Guzmán, the drug lord who escaped from a Mexican prison last month. Five million dollars is being offered for assistance in the apprehension of the drug lord known as ‘El Chapo.’ The Drug Enforcement Administration has opened a hotline for tips on Guzmán’s location, but authorities still believe he is somewhere in Mexico.

But will the offer of a reward actually lead to Guzmán’s arrest?

Nathan Jones is a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University. He says cash incentives are an effective way to help catch criminals because the informants often get protection along with the money.

“[Offering a reward] has worked in the past. It’s worked in relation to Colombian drug traffickers and other drug traffickers. What actually often happens is, because U.S. institutions work and these rewards often times come with the implicit promise of witness protection in the United States, it allows the informant — who is usually a member of the organization and probably pretty high-ranking to have this kind of information — to essentially turn on their own organization,” he says. “It allows them to… envision another possible life, in which the United States can provide witness protection, which is probably just as important as the reward money. This is what leads them to turn on each other and it can be quite effective.”

Although, Jones says earning the reward may not be as simple as just calling in and providing information.

“I’ve talked to law enforcement about this, and they say ‘We make you work for that reward.’ It can be as extensive as [law enforcement saying] ‘You need to show us the hole in the ground where the chemical processing lab is, and you’re gonna go with us in the helicopter to do it. Show us exactly where it is if you want this reward money.’ It can get complicated,” he says. “These rewards are not a contract… The ball is really in the U.S. Government’s court. They can choose who they pay and who they don’t.”

But if the U.S. turns away too many people searching for protection and cash incentives, they may stop getting tips, Jones says.

“It would almost be better to overpay or distribute payments across multiple informants, than to underpay, because the last thing you want is the reputation of underpayment… Then you don’t get the effect of pitting members of the organization against each other and having people try to turn each other in.”