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Thursday, April 29, 2004 01:16 pm

Upping the ante

Crime Stoppers says it will double the reward for tips leading to the arrest of people who carry guns illegally, a move applauded by community activists who are concerned about gun violence in Springfield.

Since 2002, the program has paid $250 for information about illegal guns, but there were few takers, says Springfield police officer Heidi Homeier, interim coordinator of Crime Stoppers of Sangamon and Menard Counties.

"The program wasn't a success [with the lower funding]," Homeier says. "I just think the public didn't know about the reward."

News that the reward was being increased to $500 was first shared earlier this month with members of Unity for Our Community, a citywide organization. The response was positive, Homeier says.

Roy Williams, a Unity leader, says the increased reward "is an excellent idea."

"Money is an incentive for young people especially."

Previous efforts to get weapons off the streets have not been taken seriously, Williams says.

"I've been given tons of examples of people they know who have done some kind of gun play. Kids still see these people on the street -- people who have shot a gun or got caught with a gun -- who have not been prosecuted. When kids see no consequences, it's hard to explain these things to them."

For Williams, it's an issue that strikes close to home: "I have heard gunshots in my own neighborhood."

Homeier says the tipster program should prove a "win-win situation for everybody" -- except, of course, for the people caught with illegal weapons.

"It gets the guns off the street, [makes] neighborhoods safer, and people who report through the anonymous Crime Stoppers phone remain anonymous."

She emphasizes that the program is not a gun buy-back, and the reward will only be paid if the information results in an arrest.

The Crime Stoppers' effort is supported by a $36,000 grant from Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal program. U.S. Attorney Jan Paul Miller is credited with securing additional funding.

David Risley, an assistant U.S. Attorney and Project Safe Neighborhoods coordinator for central Illinois, says the amount should be sufficient to generate significant results "in the short term."

"We are fortunate that the relative level of gun violence in Springfield is lower than many communities elsewhere in the country," Risley says. "But it's still too high."

Homeier says it'll take several months before police can tell if the higher rewards are working.

To report guns on the street, call 788-8427.

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