As Dorner reward application deadline approaches, questions raised about effectiveness of rewards

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At least eight people believe they deserve some or all of a $1 million reward for helping to bring the saga of ex-cop-turned-cop killer Christopher Dorner to a conclusion in the San Bernardino Mountains on Feb. 12.

At least, that's an initial count by the LAPD of applications submitted through their carefully outlined process, which closes at the end of the day Friday.

The LAPD hasn't announced the names of those eight applicants but the lawyer for the Big Bear residents, Karen and James Reynolds, said two weeks ago that he planned to apply on behalf of the couple.

"We're very encouraged by it," said lawyer Kirk Hallam after the LAPD announced new criteria for applying and evaluating the reward. "It eliminates some issues that shouldn't have been issues."

Another expected applicant is the Boy Scouts camp ranger Rick Heltebrake, who was carjacked minutes before authorities engaged Dorner in a gun battle. 

But according to a newspaper story in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Heltebrake's attorney  Allen Thomas questioned the application process in a letter to the LAPD. 

The process required applicants to sign a waiver that negates their right to sue the police department, government bodies, private donors and three retired judges tasked with deciding who will get the reward. 

"The process established by the City should be fair and impartial," wrote Allen.

Allen also questioned how much money is being offered since applicants must also apply with the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and Riverside County—and those governments reserve the right to contribute or withdraw their money.

Other reward applicants

At least two people—R. Lee McDaniel and Daniel J. McGowan—have submitted separate applications to the County of Riverside, according public information officer Ray Smith.

Lee McDaniel is the man who spotted Christopher Dorner on Feb. 7 at a gas station in Corona. He then flagged down two LAPD officers who followed Dorner and got into a shootout with him shortly afterward. It's not confirmed what role McGowan played in the search for Christopher Dorner.

Also with a possible stake in the reward is the caller who reported the burning truck that Dorner allegedly ditched near the Bear Mountain Ski Resort. Another person who played a role in the search is the San Diego man whose boat was nearly stolen by Dorner while he was on the run.

Each claim for a share of the reward will be reviewed by a panel of three retired judges, including former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno. Any law enforcement agency that wishes to participate in the proceedings—and presumably, provide supporting evidence for a claim—can present their case to the judges.

But even as that process gets underway in the coming days, some are raising questions about the value of offering rewards for information on crimes.

Rewards: "Are they actually effective?"

On Wednesday, L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine introduced a motion requiring the LAPD and City Clerk to aggregate information on rewards offered and paid by the city in the past five years.

"People have been asking a lot of questions since the Dorner incident," said Zine. "Are they actually effective in doing what we need to do in order to generate information in order to resolve the situation of crime?” 

That question, said Loyola Law Professor Alexandra Natapoff, isn't well researched. Natapoff is author of the book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice

"We don't know a lot about the efficacy of using bounties," said Natapoff. There are also potential problems if a witness or informant if motivated by money to turn someone in, she said.

"If the defense paid a witness to come forward and say someone was innocent, that would be a crime in itself," said Natapoff. "You’d call it witness tampering and bribery. The government has massive power to influence witnesses and the flow of information that is used in criminal convictions."

The key, she said, is to be careful about the integrity of the process by which the government gets information and rewards people for it.

"Hey, we need help"

The LAPD, which works with the L.A. City Council to issue rewards regularly—mostly in murder cases, but also for lesser crimes like graffiti vandalism—calls rewards a valuable tool in a detective's arsenal for solving complex crimes.

Rewards are offered for many reasons, said LAPD Lt. Natalie Cortez, who manages the LAPD’s rewards program.

“It’s important for one, to maybe generate leads," she said. "Two, to call out the community: ‘Hey, we need help.’”

Cortez said the reward offer—and getting the case back in the news—might get the attention of an eyewitness, or it might push someone reluctant to testify into doing the right thing. Even if a reward sparks an initial phone call, the relationship a witness develops with investigators could inspire cooperation through the lengthy process of collaborating with detectives and testifying in court.

“We don’t ask personal motivation, we just appreciate the information," Cortez said.

City records show the City of Los Angeles has either offered or renewed nearly $4 million for rewards related to violent crimes since January 1, 2012. In that same period, the city paid out $350,000 to people who the LAPD confirmed were deserving of reward money for their help in solving crimes.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Christopher Dorner died on Feb. 21. He died on  Feb. 12.

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