Do Some People Need Money to Do the Right Thing?

We’ve all heard the pitch, “Police are offering $1,000 for tips that lead to the arrest of so and so”, and I’m guessing like most of you, I don’t even pay attention.

But for some reason when I heard it today, it made me think about the details of such offers and question why such programs even exist.

(Maybe I should just send my concerns to Dan Ariely, and see if he’ll offer his insights. But before I do that, I’ll try to share my thoughts on the issue).

First, if there is a person out there that actually has some useful info about the crime, why haven’t they already shared that info with the police? I’m sure many people are frightened about giving such tips, fearing that there may be repercussions. And while these reward programs stress anonymity, shouldn’t just the promise of anonymity be enough to alleviate people’s concerns? What additional benefit does offering money provide to someone whose primary concern is safety?

Second, what does it say about the character of a person that has some useful info about a crime, but only opts to share such info if there is a reward for doing so?

This would seem to suggest that such a person is only motivated by the money, and not by the idea of doing what is right. This would then seem to imply that if there is no reward, such a person would not come forward with the info; otherwise, they would have already done so.

The logical conclusion to all this seems to be that some people are only motivated by money to do the right thing in such situations; if there is no monetary benefit, then they are content with not doing the right thing, i.e., not sharing their info with the police.

And while I am sure there are people that have such motivations, should we really be encouraging such behavior?

I did try to do some research on the topic (i.e., I did a five minute Google search), to see if such reward programs are effective.

One article I found at the BBC website states, “However, there is little evidence of whether cash rewards do have a positive effect and how often they are paid out.”

So that sentence actually has two key parts to it. First, there is the part that notes that there is little evidence that cash rewards have a positive effect.

The second point deals with the actual payout of such rewards. There are often stringent requirements that need to be met to qualify for the reward, but even when a tip does qualify, it’s not an easy process to collect it.

In fact, retired Sacramento Police Sgt. Marty Mamuyac who works with the Sacramento branch of Crimestoppers states that back in 2013 they authorized about $8,000 in rewards but less than half of that has been picked up.

While that may have something to do with the difficulty in picking up the reward, a more optimistic perspective may be that the people that offered the tips had second thoughts about the need for money and simply did it because it was the right thing to do.

I certainly hope so.

*image from Crime Stoppers of the Quad Cities