Berkeley officials have increased the reward money police can pay for tips about unsolved murders for the first time since 1998.
The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to increase the reward amount, from $15,000 up to $50,000, for crucial tips that lead to convictions in homicide cases. There have been more than a dozen unsolved murder cases in the city since 2005, according to the staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting by Police Chief Andrew Greenwood.
The council vote came after several relatives of Alex Goodwin Jr., a 22-year-old musician from South Berkeley who was killed in 2016, said the increase could make a big difference for those with information about the case.
“I was there when my brother got killed,” Aneka Patterson told officials. “I am in contact with a lot of people who know what happened but are scared.”
Patterson said people are hesitant to provide information when it might leave their own families in the neighborhood at risk of retribution. The district attorney’s office can help relocate witnesses — but not their extended family members. The increased reward from Berkeley police could fill that gap, she said.
“I want you guys to know he was a son. He was a brother, an uncle, a grandson, a friend. And he’s not just a number,” Kameka Goodwin, Alex’s mother, told officials. “He wasn’t a bad kid. He wasn’t involved in anything.”
Alex’s grandmother, Sarah Patterson, urged council to “look into our hearts and your hearts to help us.”
“We’re just asking for additional help to find this person, to basically put the family’s mind at ease,” another relative told officials. “That’s what we want: Justice. Justice for Alex Goodwin.”
As Mayor Jesse Arreguín thanked the family for coming to speak, meeting attendees burst into applause to offer their support to the family, too. Arreguín also thanked police for suggesting the increase to the reward amount.
“I think it will help hopefully find Alex’s killer and also bring them to justice,” the mayor said. “And help address a lot of unsolved crimes that we have in our community.”
Councilwoman Cheryl Davila also thanked the Goodwin family and said her own brother-in-law had been killed in Berkeley in the 1990s. At the time, police offered a $5,000 reward for help to solve the case. It has not been solved.
“I understand your pain,” she told the Goodwins. “Thank you for sharing your stories with us this evening and thank you for being here.”
According to the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting, the vote also expanded the type of crimes for which police can offer rewards. The old policy limited the money to information about homicides only, while the new language applies to “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for a specific crime or crime series.”
Police said they will be able to use BPD’s existing budget to cover the reward money, which would be paid at the time of conviction. Because the court process can be lengthy, the city will have ample time to plan, to ensure the money is available, according to the staff report. All rewards would need city manager approval.
Police said total costs would be difficult to estimate, but do not anticipate paying for more than one reward a year, according to the report. Payment has been made in just one case since 1998.
“Even though reward payouts are rare, just the presence of a reward results in greater interest from media outlets and the general public,” according to the staff report.
Greenwood said the Goodwin homicide, as well as the unsolved killing of Ignacio Celedón Bravo, known as “Fito,” would be the first cases where rewards would be offered.