By Chris Davis
September 16, 2014
Pawn shops often get a bad rap; but the last few years have seen a dramatic change in the way pawn brokers operate.
They're working with police more, and criminals are taking notice and changing up how they work.
"I've been coming here for a while," said Daniel McGough after buying some DVDs at Pawn Express in north Waco.
He says the reputation pawn shops have of being a dumping ground for stolen property is outdated.
"I think they all check out everything, make sure everything's good and, you know, not stolen, things like that," McGough said.
The industry has actually been doing that for a long time. But now it's easier.
"Every pawn shop can do it now," said Diego Ortiz, manager of Pawn Express.
Ortiz said at his pawn shop, even the last few years have seen a drop off in people trying to sell stolen goods.
A big change -- no more taking down info by hand and physically giving it to the cops.
"Now it's electronically," Ortiz said, "so it's helping a lot [in] our industry and the police department, too."
But now police are seeing criminals changing up.
Instead of selling their stolen stuff to pawn brokers, they're looking for more inconspicuous outlets.
"It's much more likely that those items will appear on eBay or Craigslist or other types of secondhand stores," said Emmett Murphy, with the National Pawnbrokers Association, which is based in Keller.
Recently, Waco cops found a stolen TV in a barber shop.
They've also gotten complaints about stolen property in smoke shops and repair shops.
Criminals are opting to avoid the places they know they'll be tracked, like pawn shops, and moving to more direct distribution.
"I just know that they're going to get caught," McGough said. "They aren't going to get away with it forever. They'll get caught sometime."
Much more quickly if they still go for pawn shops.
"Police can actually access every single transaction that we do every day," Ortiz said.
Everything they do, they put into an online database for police departments to look at when something is reported stolen.
"We have the item type, the brand, model, serial number, color of the item, description," Ortiz said as he walked us through the system, called Leads Online.
In the last few years, states like Texas started making all pawn shops use similar systems.
"The last place that you would ever want to take an item that has been stolen would be to a pawn broker," Murphy said.
In fact, while we were at Pawn Express, two Waco detectives were there, too, picking up two rifles that were recently reported stolen.
Because of the online system that requires ID, they now know who brought the guns in.
"Pawn brokers really pride themselves on their relationships with local law enforcement," said Murphy.
Reality shows like "Pawn Stars" are also helping take away the stigma of pawn shops: They're no longer the places where criminals go to offload their "hot" merchandise.
"It's not like that anymore," Ortiz said. "Everything is changing now."
Or, as Murphy puts it, they've "grown up."
Murphy also said only about one-tenth of 1 perent of all items in a pawn shop are ever reported stolen.
And as for the cases of stolen goods showing up in local barber shops and repair shops, Waco police say anyone knowingly buying stolen property can be charged with the same crimes as the person who stole it in the first place.
If you have any information on the thefts or any stolen property, you're asked to call Crime Stoppers at 254-753-HELP.