By Rob Ford
August 29, 2011
Big Brother may not be watching, but the Gonzales County Sheriff's Office is.
This week, the Gonzales County Sheriff's Office joined a nationwide information gathering system known as "Leads on Line" that tracks sales activities to businesses like pawnshops, eBay, scrap metal recyclers, secondhand sales sites and others around the nation.
" 'Leads on Line' is a relatively new tool that compiles lists of items that have been brought into pawn shops, resale shops, metal buying facilities," said Gonzales County Sheriff Glen A. Sachtleben.
"It's a nationwide database," he said. "With a subscription fee, we're allowed to gain access to that information. It doesn't matter if it's a gun, saddle or laptop computer. If it has a serial number that we can run through the pawn, resale or what-have-you systems, it can be tracked by 'Leads on Line'."
Sachtleben elaborated on the diversity of the system in that law enforcement officials can do a kind of "reverse search."
"If we have a suspect, then we can take that suspect's name and personal identification, and enter him or her and actually run it backward to see what they have been pawning or selling," he said. "It's a two-way street.
"If you were to go and pawn your own lawn mower, and we had you listed as a suspicious person, we could tell what you had pawned," he said. "The query's part of an actual investigation. They're not done just because we want to know what somebody's doing or anything like that."
Sachtleben said it is impossible for the sheriff's office to follow up on every site the online system checks. "The time and manpower that has been dedicated to simply checking area vendors, while necessary, has been very costly for us," he said.
Sachtleben also said that the first query of 'Leads on Line' yielded their discovery of five firearms that were stolen from Gonzales County.
"Four of those were located from recent thefts, and one was found in Oklahoma City from a theft back in 1997," he said.
Sachtleben noted that this is not an "end all, do all" application. "There are certain things that the sheriff's office investigators need to utilize 'Leads on Line.' They must have serial numbers and a good description of the items they are searching for. More often than not the victim of a theft or burglary does not have a record of the items missing and because of that the sheriff's office is unable to enter the missing items into Texas and national database for stolen items. If it is not entered into these databases, we cannot claim or even query for the missing items."
Sachtleben also pointed out that the national database (known as NCIC) keeps serial numbers on items for a specific period of time, and near that time they send the authorities notice that they're going to be deleted.
"If we don't renew them, then they're pulled from the system and no longer listed as stolen."
Firearms, however, are an important exception.
"The serial numbers of stolen firearms stay in the system forever," he said. "Those kinds of files have to remain available for our dispatch so if one of our neighboring communities comes across a firearm that we have entered as stolen, they call us and ask us to identify it."
Sachtleben stresses the importance of protecting your valuables.
"In hard economic times like these, more and more people resort to stealing," he said. "Put your lawn mowers up, and record the serial numbers of everything you own. I'm as guilty as anyone for not having done that with my own stuff! Keep two lists – one at the house and one some place else."
If you see something suspicious around your neighborhood, Sachtleben said not to hesitate to report it. Call the Gonzales County Sheriff's Office at 830-672-6524 or, if it is an emergency, call 9-1-1. No call should be considered unimportant, and deputies react to all calls.