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March 2014 Column - County considers law to assist police in recovering stolen items


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When a home is burglarized, the aftermath can be extremely toiling for the homeowner. Aside from having your security invaded, the victim is left dealing with the loss of personal items. In many cases, such as when jewelry or precious antiques are taken, memories and emotions are taken with those items. Too often, these irreplaceable items are never returned.

Thieves quickly sell victims’ belongings to pawnshops, making recovery efforts by law enforcement incredibly difficult. This is because pawnshops can quickly melt down the precious metal, making it impossible to recover the item.

During the past several years, communities around the country have implemented regulations for pawnshops that assist law enforcement agencies in their attempts to trace and recover stolen property. In cooperation with local law enforcement agencies and my colleague, Legislator Lynne Dixon, we have been crafting such regulations for Erie County that would be enforced through a local law.

Referred to as a “Pawnshop Law,” the changes would regulate the industry and require shop owners to enter all purchases into a countywide database and hold them for a short time before placing them on the shelves for sale. This step allows police departments to quickly and efficiently search for matches in theft cases they may be working on. The regulation would also require the shop owner to include a copy of the seller’s photo ID.

When pawnshops are allowed to operate without these regulations, they can provide thieves with an easy opportunity to dump stolen goods, collect cash and be on their way.

The database, an electronic reporting program, would apply not only to pawnshops, but also to precious metal exchange establishments and secondhand merchants. This will help to curtail the distribution and facilitate the recovery of stolen property in Erie County.

This issue has been vetted for several months now, with consideration being given to all parties involved. The proposed local law will be introduced to the Legislature in the next few weeks for further discussion. At an upcoming committee meeting, members of the law enforcement agencies, pawnshop owners and others with a vested interested in these changes will be invited to speak on the proposed local law.

Municipalities around the country that have implemented similar regulations and operate databases are very pleased with the results, reporting that recovery rates for stolen goods have increased.

 

With advances in technology, it makes perfect sense to implement a countywide database to connect all law enforcement agencies with all pawnshops and similar businesses. Within moments, an agency can become aware of an item sold to a pawnshop, quickly determining if the item was recently stolen.

If you have any questions about the proposed new regulations for local pawnshops or any other county issues, please contact my office at 858-8922 or email joseph.lorigo@erie.gov.