Crimestoppers increases rewards following FOX 8 investigation

Crimestoppers increases rewards following FOX 8 investigation
Updated: Jun. 23, 2017 at 6:48 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans says it's increasing the amount of money offered to tipsters in an effort to help combat crime. The announcement Friday came just one month after our investigation questioning if the organization should consider raising reward totals since it has about $3 million in its coffers.

Crimestoppers CEO Darlene Cusanza headed for the exit after we asked her for one comment following a press conference she had invited the media to attend. During the presser held at St. Louis Cathedral, Cusanza announced an increase in rewards for tipsters to help solve more crimes.

"Crimestoppers is announcing today, for the summer months, that we have now increased our rewards for homicides up to $5,000," Cusanza said at the podium.

The non-profit is also offering $1,000  for information leading police to a gun linked to a crime. In addition, it's going to provide up to $3,500 for information that leads to an arrest on non-fatal shootings. The increased rewards will only last for the summer months, a time when the police chief says crime typically rises in New Orleans.

"We're hopeful and grateful that we're able to deter more crime and solve more crime because of this initiative," NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said.

Before Friday, the organization offered up to a $2,500 reward. In some special circumstances, more money was provided.

Last month, after reviewing financial documents for the non-profit that receives public money, we found that in in 2015, it had around $3 million in the bank. When we sat down with Cusanza May 10 for an on-camera interview, she didn't dispute the $3 million figure. However, in a follow-up email sent to FOX 8 this week, the board of directors said the net assets for the non-profit stand at $1.8 million with an additional private $546,000 in temporarily restricted funds designated by donors. The email doesn't mention how much the organization receives through court fees - public money. But documents we found show that in 2015, the organization received $300,000 in court fees.

CPA Pat Lynch, who looked at the 2015 financial information, says if the organization was liquidated, there would be $2,982,894 in cash and assets that could be readily converted into cash.

We posed the question: Should rewards be increased?

We asked, "Why not take a little bit of that money and increase the rewards? Just for homicides, not for all felony cases, just for homicides, increase it up to maybe $7,000, $8,000? Would that not entice more people to come forward?"

Cusanza replied, "Well first off, again, I go back to our statistics. I go back to the 143 arrests that were made through Crimestoppers with a reward of $2,500. Those are cases that would not have been solved otherwise.

We followed up, "Couldn't the number always be greater? Couldn't it always be higher?"

"I think when you say couldn't the number be greater, it depends on a lot of things other than Crimestoppers," Cusanza said at the time.

Cusanza also told us the organization had done a study, and that $2,500 was deemed the appropriate amount to offer. In our report, an attorney representing the Police Association of New Orleans also questioned the amount being offered, especially given the homicide clearance rate in New Orleans. Last year, 40 arrests were made in the 174 homicides that occurred.

In a recent email, the organization told FOX 8 that out of 18,000 calls placed last year to it's tip line, 293 cases were cleared and 143 arrests were made. Approximately $90,000 was to be given out in reward totals, but only a little more than $60,000 had been claimed.  Again, when we asked Cusanza if the organization should consider raising reward totals - as other similar sized cities have done - she said no.

"It's very case-specific, it's not always just about rewards. If you look at our national protocols and you actually talk to Crimestoppers USA, which I am actually a board member of, they do not always agree that bumping a reward or increasing a reward is the answer," Cusanza said May 10.

Fast forward to today and the press conference at St. Louis Cathedral. Following her remarks at the podium, we hoped to ask Cusanza more about the increased rewards. As she prepared to speak to another TV station, she refused to speak to us.

As soon as we walked up, Cusanza abruptly stopped her interview with the other station, and began to walk away.

We asked, "So you can't answer any questions at a press conference that you called?".

Cusanza replied, "We've answered our prayers...ah, our questions about this program. Thank you so much for coming."

We then asked board of trustees member Jim Letten for a comment.

"Look, I'm not the spokesman for the group. I'm proud to be part of the group," he said.

As we were speaking to Letten, we noticed Cusanza making her way to an exit, flanked by Chief Harrison and two others. With the door locked, they made their way behind the altar in order to find a way out of the cathedral.

We attempted to speak with one more board member on camera, Ed Marshall, but he also wouldn't provide a comment.

We don't know why CEO Darlene Cusanza wouldn't answer any questions about an initiative she called "very important" in her press conference.

Regardless, the police chief and a City Council member who attended the press conference applaud the offering of more reward money, hoping it can stem the tide of violence plaguing New Orleans - at least for the summer months.

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