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Mayor: Homicide rewards not working

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Mayor Gavin Newsom has acknowledged that offering $100,000 rewards to help solve homicide cases has failed and represents an unsuccessful attempt in trying to reduce San Francisco’s high homicide rate.

As San Francisco was experiencing its third consecutive year of a historic number of killings and community members were calling on city officials for relief, Newsom announced in September 2006 that he had put up $100,000 rewards in 15 unsolved homicide cases, 10 times the usual reward amount offered.

“I won’t say that this was one of the success stories of the year,” Newsom said Tuesday. It was hoped that the sizable reward bounty would produce leads in the murders and arrests of killers on city streets.

Newsom said he did not regret the effort and he is willing to try a variety of strategies to help reduce the number of killings. The City tallied decade-high homicide rates in recent years, with 88 in 2004, 96 in 2005 and 85 last year.

Newsom, who was thumbing through the $100,000 reward bulletins Tuesday, said there have been no significant leads or captures resulting from the reward money.

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“That continues to be somewhat frustrating,” said Allan Nance, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

The fact that the $100,000 rewards have not yielded results highlights the Police Department’s challenge of getting witnesses to talk.

“The reality is we have known for quite a while now that the community has been somewhat reluctant to come forward with information,” Nance said. Fear of retaliation and “mistrust of the system” are two leading factors that keep witnesses silent, according to Nance.

Last year’s fatal shooting in the Bayview district of a primary eyewitness to a gang shooting does not help the situation, Nance said. “That doesn’t encourage people to come forward when they see an incident like that,” he added.

But the $100,000 amount was expected to have results. It was enough money that a witness could “start a new life, move out of the neighborhood,” Nance said.

“It’s somewhat perplexing that even at $100,000, it’s not resulted in significant arrests,” Nance said.

The Police Department’s Web site lists 15 homicide cases where a $100,000 reward is being offered for the arrest and conviction of the offender. Nance said an award was offered in these cases because the “trail has gotten cold.”

“Inspectors have gotten to the point when they really don’t have any leads in the cases and the community is frustrated that these cases have not been solved,” Nance said.

The cases range from the 2002 killing of a 24-year-old pregnant woman, Evelyn Hernandez, whose remains were found floating in the Bay near the Embarcadero and Folsom Street, to the 2005 shooting of popular tattoo artist Brian Marquez, who was killed near the corner of 24th and Alabama streets.

Police Department spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens said he would not call the $100,000 rewards unsuccessful.

“When we issue rewards like that, we do generally get calls and they are helpful,” Gittens said. “There’s a whole lot happening in between an arrest and information coming in.”

The reasons witnesses refuse to come forward “need to be explored and we need to find ways to counter that,” Nance said.

Staff writer Bonnie Eslinger contributed to this report.

Slain teen’s family: Bounty not publicized

On May 7, 2004, just days before he was expected to be crowned prom king, 17-year-old Raymon Bass grabbed a slice of pizza and picked up his tuxedo for the dance. Then, he was gunned down while walking near the corner of Haight and Webster streets and instantly died.

Because no arrests have been made in the slaying, Bass is featured along with 14 other unsolved murders that are part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s $100,000 reward program that offers cash for information leading to arrests in some of The City’s notorious homicides.

There’s just one problem — Bass’ family says they were never made aware of the reward.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Gigi Hasley, Bass’ sister who lived with him in the Fillmore district.

“And people will do anything for a piece of change, even if it involves snitching,” Hasley said, adding that Genette Trammell, the great-grandmother who raised her and Bass, was also in the dark about the reward money.

Mission High School Principal Kevin Truitt, who has kept in close contact with Bass’ family since his death, said he had never heard anything about the incentive before.

“I don’t know how we didn’t know about this — there is definitely some kind of communication gap,” Truitt said.

The principal said he had a close relationship with Bass since he was in the sixth grade and called him a “role model” for other students.

Truitt added that speculation surrounding the killing has hinted that a turf war in the area might be a possible motive for the crime — but getting people to come forward with solid information has been difficult.

“This wasn’t personal, [rumors are] he was targeted because of his association with the Fillmore — he was very popular, well-liked and high-profile, so whoever did this did it to hurt the community,” Truitt said.

Also on the reward list is Bass’ close friend and classmate, Scharod Fleming, 15, who was killed just five months before him in a drive-by shooting outside a dance at a Tenderloin YMCA.

Ironically, Fleming was wearing Bass’ jacket at the time of his death, Truitt said, and Bass was so deeply affected by his friend’s death that he became instrumental in planning his memorial service.

— Eleni Economides

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