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London, Ky., proposes ordinance citing Williamsburg PD success with LeadsOnline

Online registry would help law enforcement find stolen goods

By Magen McCrarey

November 11, 2011

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — London Police sift through old pawn shop receipts to search for purchased stolen property on a monthly basis, a time consuming and painstaking task. To become a more efficient department, Chief Stewart Walker is looking towards the creation of a new ordinance to support an online pawn shop registry and video surveillance system to benefit both law enforcement and local businesses.

The London Police Department submitted the proposed ordinance to members of the London City Council a year ago, but no action was taken at that time. Walker plans to bring the ordinance to the attention of the council again this year.

The City of Williamsburg adopted a similar pawn shop ordinance in January of this year.

"It (ordinance) would be a tremendous asset to law enforcement in Laurel County," said Wayne Bird, chief of the Williamsburg Police Department in Williamsburg.

Since Willamsburg's adoption of the ordinance, Bird said keeping pawn shops in check and tracking down stolen items has never been easier. Within the first week after the ordinance passed, they tracked a stolen lap top computer through the LeadsOnline registry and recovered it in Colorado, in addition to finding a stolen chainsaw that was pawned in Knoxville, Tenn.

"I don't think it has reduced crimes," Bird said, "but our recovery rate went up tremendously."

Willamsburg's ordinance requires all pawnbrokers to submit electronic reports through LeadsOnline as well as utilize video surveillance. LeadsOnline is an online communications and registration tool used by 1,900 law enforcement agencies across the U.S., said Lindsay Williams, LeadsOnline director of communications.

The online tool has saved Willamsburg's law enforcement and potentially would save London Police the time and energy spent on stolen items simply by the click of a button. If police are searching for a suspect, they can update or search through a person of interest database that is visible to all registered police agencies nationwide. The yearly cost to subscribe to LeadsOnline is $1,500, but once subscribed any pawn shop within the city limits can use it free of charge to register their purchased items.

Pawn shops are currently governed by Kentucky state law, with costly penalties if they should fail to register items. The pawn shop ordinance doesn't just stop at penalties, said Bird, it places additional restrictions upon these types of businesses to deter illegal transactions.

"The theft rate right now is higher than I've ever seen it in my career, most attributed to the kind of drug problem that we have," Bird said. "We need all the tools we can get."

Walker agreed, stating, "We know as law enforcement there is a connection. Most crimes and burglaries are all results of drugs and drug trafficking."

Walker is most interested in adopting a similar pawn shop ordinance to more efficiently track down suspects and solve local thefts. Many victims of theft do not keep a record of serial numbers, photos or descriptions of their valuable items, and that makes law enforcement's job harder to locate the items, Walker said.

According to Mardis Pawn Shop employee Kevin Mardis, pawn shops in London don't stay in business very long if they're being run "off the cuff." Mardis Pawn Shop is run efficiently and in compliance with the law, he said, which is why they have been in business for so long.

Mardis Pawn Shop, located on South Main Street, is one of London's oldest pawn shops and has been in business for 22 years. They currently utilize a surveillance camera system inside and outside their shop and submit handwritten reports daily to the London Police on items bought, in accordance to state law.

"So far our system has been fail-proof," Mardis said, adding, "If a pawn shop is run correctly, it is very beneficial to the local police."

Mardis said an ordinance would only affect their pawn business in an organized sense. Registering an item through LeadsOnline is faster, Walker said, versus a handwritten document at the point of sale.

"We've got to really go the extra mile, because good documentation and security cameras just makes our job easier when it comes to catching people and prosecuting them," Walker said.

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