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Battle Creek looks to crack down on sales of stolen merchandise

By Jennifer Bowman

June 2, 2013

On the main counter at Fast Cash Asset Exchange, placed in front of a wall full of Princess Diana memorabilia and Coca-Cola collectibles, are a small camera and a fingerprint machine hooked up to a computer.

The pawn shop at 641 Capital Ave. S.W. has long used the equipment to track their transactions, said General Manager Dave Gretzner.

"Down to everything we buy for a nickel," he said, "it doesn't matter. We record it."

Others in the area haven't quite caught up, Gretzner said, and many still do recordkeeping by hand. But they will soon need the same setup, as the city of Battle Creek prepares to make changes to its ordinance that regulates local second-hand dealers. Electronic records, sent to Battle Creek police on a regular basis, will be required in an effort to prevent stolen merchandise from being sold. Susan Bedsole, director of community services, said at a workshop in April that the costs for an electronic vendor will be paid by the city but will be recouped in license fees. City commissioners could vote on the changes as early as this month.

Internet drop-off stores and organizations that receive and sell or give away donated items other than precious jewelry are exempt from the ordinance. Also, dealers that have 10 or less transactions in a 90-day period are not required to report their electronic records but are still required to keep track by paper form. Violators of the ordinance could have their license suspended or revoked and could be issued a civil infraction.

The city currently requires all second-hand operations to be licensed. Also, shop employees cannot have been convicted of theft or another dishonest crime within the past five years. Pawnbrokers must require valid picture identification from all people who sell or pawn goods, along with the name and address of the customer who purchased them. All available serial numbers must also be listed and, as outlined by state law, business transactions with minors are prohibited.

Bedsole did not respond to multiple requests by the Enquirer for information for this story.

The pawn shop business has long been criticized for serving as a market for stolen merchandise and for spurring crime activity, but technology is attempting to help. Leads Online, an online system used by law enforcement that allows businesses to report their transactions online, helps agencies track missing items and individuals. Its database has more than 540 million records of transactions, according to its website.

Professor Thomas Miles at the University of Chicago Law School wrote in 2008 that technology services, provided by Leads Online and other companies such as BusinessWatch International, could be beneficial.

"If effective at increasing the amount of stolen property recovered from pawnshops, this software should deter the pawning of ill-gotten goods in two ways," he said. "First it should, magnify the thief-turned-pawnor's odds of apprehension. Secondly, as police confiscation of stolen merchandise becomes more likely, pawnbrokers should be less willing to accept questionable items."

Gretzner said a small amount of merchandise his shop receives — less than 1 percent — turns out to be stolen, but the electronic requirements will save a trip downtown to the police department and could help soften the impact the recordkeeping has on staff.

"I'd like to see it actually implemented in the whole county," he said.


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