By Brian Freskos
September 15, 2012
Earlier this year, detectives received an alert saying a gun stolen during a burglary in Arizona about 30 years ago had recently surfaced in Wilmington.
The gun, police later learned, had apparently made its way across the country, changing hands until someone sold it to a city pawn shop. When the shopkeeper entered the transaction into the computer, the serial numbers matched the stolen firearm.
The system that led police to the missing gun is a private online database gaining popularity among law enforcement agencies around the country. The service, LeadsOnline, collects seller information from tens of thousands of pawn shops, scrap yards, and retailers nationwide, creating vast amounts of data that detectives use to track stolen property. These kinds of public-private relationships are growing increasingly important as technology advances, police departments wrestle with budget tightening and officials face pressure to curb crime.
Nationally, property crimes fell for nine straight years, including in Wilmington, where crime has trended downward since 1998. But the decline has stalled. Property crimes – a category that includes burglary, larceny such as shoplifting, motor vehicle theft and arson – edged up by a statistically insignificant 0.04 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to numbers submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Barry Coburn, the city's crime analyst. said burglary is still a problem because of "increasing costs for gold and metal."
So having a subscription to LeadsOnline is helpful.
The Wilmington Police Department was able to buy the subscription because of a $13,859 donation from Alan Perry of Perry's Emporium, a store that buys and sells jewelry. Since subscribing to the program in February, Wilmington Police Department detectives have used it to recover more than $40,000 worth in property. The department plans on using about $8,000 in asset forfeiture funds to renew its subscription in October, said Capt. Jeff Allsbrook, who oversees the city's criminal investigations division.
To police, the investment is well worth the return.
The service, which boasts about 4,000 law enforcement members, speeds up investigations in a department with finite manpower. Among the service's many features is it allows detectives to flag names of repeat criminals so every time they sell something it sends back an alert.
In one case, a thief named Allen Sneeden Jr., 42, broke into a car parked outside of a Wilmington movie theater and stole several pieces of jewelry that he later sold to a jewelry store on Market Street, police said. When his name popped up, detectives analyzed pawn tickets and pictures of the goods on the computer. Using that information, they matched the jewelry to the open case file and made the arrest.
Sneeden is now serving more than seven years in prison for theft and other crimes.