Why Isn’t the FBI Offering a Reward for Information in the Boston Marathon Bombing?

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
April 18 2013 10:50 PM

Why Isn’t the FBI Offering a Reward for Information in the Boston Marathon Bombing?

Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects 1 and 2
Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects 1 and 2

Courtesy of FBI

On Thursday afternoon, the FBI released images and video footage of two men who have been deemed suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. In a press conference, FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers encouraged the public to review the images and footage, and to visit a special website, bostonmarathontips.fbi.gov, if they had any information that might be useful in identifying the suspects. They’re hoping that people do so out of the goodness of their own hearts: While a group of Boston public safety unions have joined to offer a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprits, the FBI, at least so far, has not offered up any cash. Why?

They likely feels there’s no need. Offering a big cash reward is a great way to raise publicity, and to encourage people to be extra aware and observant. But the Boston Marathon bombings are already getting tons of publicity—every major news organization in the country, if not the world, seems to have a representative here. And the public has shown itself more than willing to volunteer its time and effort to help identify the suspects. (A spokesperson was not available this evening to provide an official explanation of the FBI’s thinking vis-à-vis reward money. I’ll update this post when/if I get that explanation.)


A 1991 paper in the American Journal of Police titled “Rewards by Businesses for Crime Information: The Views of Law Enforcement” pointed out another potential downside. While cash rewards can help law enforcement officials elicit information that might otherwise be withheld, “in some instances, the setting of rewards may prove more trouble than it is worth. The major disadvantage seems to lie in the expenditure of time and effort on fruitless leads.” That’s a concern for the FBI, which is already fielding thousands of tips from concerned citizens, most of which won’t pan out. At this point, offering money for info would likely make the signal-to-noise ratio even worse.

If, after a few days, the FBI still doesn’t have any good leads, then they might sweeten the deal by offering some cash. If so, you can expect the reward to exceed the $50,000 currently being offered by the Boston unions. As a 2011 Slate Explainer piece reported, the FBI parcels out rewards mostly based on the notoriety of the fugitives. “The FBI's 56 field offices decide which fugitives need price tags and can set the bounty themselves up to $20,000,” wrote Jeremy Singer-Vine. “If they believe more money is needed, they must get approval from FBI headquarters; rewards of $250,000 or larger also require the attorney general's support.” The suspects in a horrible, world-famous bombing would certainly qualify as “notorious.” And I doubt the attorney general would stand in the way of a greater-than-$250,000 reward. We’ll just have to wait and see whether the FBI thinks it would pay off to do so.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Sept. 30 2014 9:32 AM Why Are Mint Condition Comic Books So Expensive?
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.