As the high-profile search for Harmony Montgomery continues, Manchester police are promoting a reliable tool in police work — cash rewards for tips.
On Wednesday, police announced that anyone who provides information about the whereabouts of 7-year old Harmony, last seen around November 2019, could pocket $104,000.
Veteran law enforcement officials say tips, whether they come because of a reward or not, are valuable ways to find people and solve crimes. Although rewards have their drawbacks, they encourage people to talk.
“Some people are motivated by money,” said Patricia LaFrance, a former Hillsborough County Attorney. “Most likely, anybody who knows where this girl is is not the most upstanding citizen.”
She stressed that police cannot use a mere tip to obtain a warrant or make an immediate arrest.
Rather, she likened it to a motorist calling about a drunk driver: Police have to start an investigation, gather their own evidence and then go forward.
“Police rely on information all the time,” she said, “but you have to corroborate.”
Manchester police are manning a dedicated tip line (603-203-6060) 24 hours a day for information about Harmony.
As of Wednesday, the line had received more than 300 tips, police said.
“I have to remain hopeful. Somebody knows something,” Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg said Wednesday in brief remarks to reporters.
Much of the money has been raised by donations. Sizeable donations have been pledged in $1,000 increments since New Year’s Eve, when police announced Harmony’s disappearance.
Aldenberg said he can’t answer questions about who would qualify for the reward without knowing what the information is. Although people providing tips can remain anonymous, at some point they would have to provide identification to receive the money, police said.
One organization contributed $10,000 to the effort — the New Hampshire branch of the U.S. Marshal Service, whose job is to locate people. But marshal searches usually involve people wanted in connection to a criminal case.
Marshal Service headquarters approved the Harmony reward, said Supervisory Deputy Marshal Jeffrey White.
“Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t, to be honest with you,” White said about rewards. Rewards help increase visibility and provide some incentive. But they can also drive people further underground.
The Marshal Service “Fugitive of the Week” program has led to thousands of arrests since starting in 2007. White said people will call his office and ask about a reward. Most times there isn’t one, but the tipster will still provide the information.
“They do it for one of two reasons — they either love the person or they hate the person,” he said. A family member wants a loved one to get help. In the alternative, an ex or a competitor, such as a rival in the drug trade, could be involved.
White said anonymity is assured when so meone calling in a tip does not want a reward. But to receive a reward, the person with the information must provide their name, photograph and fingerprints. The Marshal Service even checks to see whether the tipster is wanted or on probation.
“It’s not as easy as meeting someone on the corner with a bag of money,” he said.
Not so with with Manchester Crimeline, which accepts tips on an ongoing basis. The Manchester police-affiliated organization goes to great lengths to keep a tipster anonymous.
A tipster is given a ID number, which is used to identify the person by police. Payment comes upon arrest or indictment. A tipster’s identity is revealed only if they testify in court, and then they are eligible for up to twice the reward.
Kim Griswold, a member of the civilian board that oversees Crimeline, said payments are made in cash at “general clandestine meeting places.” They involve a police officer, a Crimeline board member and the tipster.
“There’s just a meeting, and they hand them the money. No questions asked,” she said. “Anonymous is anonymous.”