Crime is on the rise these days, although not necessarily on the streets. Television programs such as Cops show real-life alleged perpetrators (their faces tastefully obscured) being busted by real-life cops. Others, such as America's Most Wanted, reenact crimes and ask viewers with information to call the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
Now a Colorado man has distilled such appeals to citizen watchdogs and voyeurs into print. Recently, 10,000 copies of the first edition of Reward Magazine appeared in Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland.
The eight-page monthly magazine publishes reports from Crime Stoppers of Larimer County, pleas from national foundations for information about missing children and details of a U.S. Postal Service investigation of bombs sent through the mail. The reprints--most of which are from nonprofit groups--are arranged according to the amount of money being offered for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of a criminal or to the discovery of a missing child.
Publisher James Finnegan says he hopes to add other sections to Reward soon, including "Scams and Con Games," "Missing Animals," "Stolen Property," "Repossessions" and "Dead Beat Parents." The only requirement for publication is that the person or organization purchasing space offer some sort of reward for information. A small, privately placed display ad costs $100.
Although local cops say they appreciate the effort, Finnegan already is causing concern with his plans for another feature. Sometime in the coming months, he says, he hopes to introduce "Recently Released," a section that will list the names and new addresses of just-sprung criminals, particularly those who have served time for sex offenses. "There probably isn't a mother around who wouldn't want to pick the publication up to get that information," Finnegan says.
Liz McDonough, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, confirms that Finnegan has requested the information. But she says that prison officials have balked at turning it over pending a legal review of prisoners' privacy rights.
With fear of crime rising, the issue of an ex-con's treatment is more than just a legal one. Explains one prison official who requests anonymity, "These guys have a hard enough time as it is finding jobs and fitting in. Besides, they've served their time." The concern with distributing addresses specifically is that former prisoners may get a reception like that accorded Joseph Gallardo.
Gallardo was released last year after spending 33 months in a Washington state prison for statutory rape of a ten-year-old girl. But a 1990 state law permits local law enforcement authorities to warn a community if a sexual "predator" decides to make the town his new home.
When Gallardo's time in stir was up, in July 1993, the Snohomish County sheriff's department exercised its option, posting notices of Gallardo's arrival. Within days his house mysteriously went up in flames, leaving only smoking embers and some not-very-repentant neighbors.
Finnegan says the idea for Reward Magazine came to him only recently: "I was having my morning coffee and going through the Rocky Mountain News. I turned to the police blotter, and they had pictures of two criminals they were looking for. It suddenly dawned on me that there's probably a lot of people out there who would like to know this stuff. It was almost like a religious experience."
Finnegan, who is 48 years old and says he worked as a graphic designer in the state of Washington before moving to Colorado seventeen years ago, says his original intention was to produce a sort of "Most Wanted" bulletin as a community service. But, he adds, it quickly became apparent that such a publication was capable of generating income. "The idea now is to create a profit-making magazine," he says.
By narrowing down the crime notices to those that dangle the possibility of a payback, he says he hopes to attract more citizen participants to the business of sniffing out at-large criminals.
"Now I know that there are a great number of good Samaritans out there that would, given the chance, be glad to help for nothing more than just the knowledge that they've aided in some way; and personally I applaud these people," Finnegan writes in the opening issue. "But in order to get the greatest number of people involved one of the main motivators is to offer a reward."
As with any start-up publication, Reward Magazine has run into its share of glitches. Several large missing-children foundations have been reluctant to expend energy advertising in a newspaper that distributes only locally. And Finnegan says the FBI has balked at keeping him up to date on its Most Wanted lists.
Even so, while Finnegan says he has not made any money on the magazine yet, he has managed to corral some local advertisers. "For advertisers, we offer a real pointed perspective," he explains. "If you make people more aware of the crime in their community, maybe they'll think that there's more crime. There's a certain atmosphere that goes along with the publication."
The inaugural issue of Reward Magazine contains ads for The Mister Pawn ("Guns--New and Used. Best selection of personal protection"); Dave's Locksmithing; The Claypool Associates, An Investigative Consultancy; and Guardian Angel Security Systems Inc. For his second issue, Finnegan says he has convinced some martial-arts studios to advertise as well.
Boardmembers of the local Crime Stoppers say it is too early to know whether Reward will help them round up at-large criminals and missing kids. "We haven't seen any rise in calls yet," says John Davis, an investigator for the Larimer County District Attorney's office.
Yet Ken Kirchhoff, crime-prevention coordinator for the Fort Collins police department, says the additional exposure can only help. "It's just another way to take advantage of the media to get the information out," he explains. He confirms that his office hasn't received any tips from people who had read pleas in Reward, but he says the department has had "some good feedback on it."
Finnegan says he is confident that he can convince the state prison system to hand over the addresses of recently released sex offenders. Others aren't so sure. "If you've done your sentence, there's a question of whether you should be held up to public consideration," says Katherine Clark, a staff attorney for the Colorado District Attorneys Council.
The DOC's McDonough adds that if a prisoner is released without parole, the state has no authority to ask questions regarding his whereabouts. And, while Colorado's Sex Offender Act calls for prison officials to alert local cops when a sex offender moves into a particular community, there is no provision for them to pass on that information to potential neighbors.
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Finnegan says he would not knowingly publish anything that would incite his readers to acts of violent vigilantism. At the same time, however, he is emphatic that a prison sentence alone is insufficient punishment for pedophiles.
"It is a crime that there's no punishment significant enough for," he says. "I'm not as worried about vigilantes as I am about the children. I don't want a pedophile living in my neighborhood." Publishing a sex offender's location, he says, is intended "to create an atmosphere for the pedophile that's unfriendly [and] where the criminal continues to pay after his crime."
By the end of next year, Finnegan says, he hopes to widen Reward Magazine's distribution to the entire Front Range and its circulation to somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000.