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North County Times

Pawn shop data helps detectives catch thieves, find property

Oceanside police have used tool with great success for years, interest growing among other law enforcement agencies

By Morgan Cook

February 27, 2011

In the three years since the Oceanside Police Department subscribed to a privately owned database of pawn shop transactions, detectives said the investment has paid serious dividends – in captured crooks and happy residents.

The database, called LeadsOnline, has made detectives' jobs easier. Using the searchable daily records of about 15,000 pawn shops nationwide, they say they have found stolen property, tracked suspects' movements, and built stronger criminal cases.

The department pays about $10,000 a year to use the database, Detective Ed Lane said.

He said it's a significant expense, especially when the department has been forced to make budget cuts.

But in 2007, the first year detectives used it, they found at least $50,000 in stolen property.

"Part of the fun of this job is getting the stuff back," Lane said. "We like to throw crooks in jail, but we love it when we can also get stuff back for (victims)."

Detective Tom Wayer said he searches the database every couple of weeks for the names of criminals he thinks are likely to steal again.

"It's great, obviously, for finding stuff, but it's also good for finding people, figuring out where they were and at what time," he said.

At the end of last year, Wayer said, the name of a thief he'd helped put behind bars popped up in the database.

"He was out of jail two weeks before he started pawning again," Wayer said. "I didn't even know he was out."

Pawn shops' participation is voluntary, but Wayer said local businesses have been more than happy to help.

"We don't like stolen property; it's a pain in the butt," said John Martin, vice president of education and training at Gems N' Loans in Oceanside. "It's just a drag. It drags us back. Pawn shops have had a bad reputation and that's not how we are."

Martin said Oceanside police provided the shop with software to upload its data electronically, and it's only a minute or two of extra work each night.

For now, Oceanside is the only North County law enforcement agency using LeadsOnline, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based technology company said Wednesday.

But that may not be the case for long.

A spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said the agency has been researching the database and is considering subscribing to it.

The Escondido Police Department also may begin using the database, Lt. Chris Wynn said Friday.

"I can't say we're going to pull the trigger on it for sure, but we're researching it and it looks like something we could really use," Wynn said.

Wynn said the database seems like a huge improvement over the county's existing system: each regional agency transcribes receipts from local pawn shops into a shared computer network.

"Right now, the pawn shops fill out a paper slip and send it to us, and then we enter it into (the automated Regional Justice Information System)," Wynn said. "But it can be weeks or months before slips make it into ARJIS.

"This is updated every day."

Pawn shops are required by law to submit the receipts, and to hold items for 30 days before putting them up for sale, Wayer said, so finding property within that window of time is key.

"There's nothing worse than getting something and saying to (the victim), 'OK, we found it,' and then having it be gone," he said.

To retrieve stolen property, victims must pay whatever the pawn shop loaned the person who left it, Wayer said.

But he said the cost is generally a small fraction of the item's monetary – not to mention sentimental – value.

For example, he said, he recently found a large gold bracelet that had been stolen from a local woman.

He said the bracelet was dear to the woman because she bought it during a vacation with her husband before he died.

"She had basically written it off as gone forever," he said. "I called her and told her, 'I think we found it,' and she was at the pawn shop before I was."

For more information on LeadsOnline call (800) 311-2656

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