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Mishawaka council OKs new method of catching stolen items

By Joseph Dits

June 2, 2014

The city council voted 9-0 Monday to approve ordinance changes that will require shops selling used and pawned goods to log those items onto Leads Online, a website that alerts police of stolen items.

Two local merchants spoke in favor of the measure, saying it protects their businesses. Both have been using Leads Online in recent months.

It tips them off to people who've tried to sell stolen goods before. A lot of times, that can be someone selling off their parents' or grandparents' valuables in order to support a drug habit, said Rudy Vegh, owner of Ozarks Pawn Shop, with one store at 1006 S. Merrifield Ave. and another in South Bend.

"It's not fun to deal with a parent that's bawling because their child sold off all their stuff," he said.

It doesn't cost the merchants anything to plug new merchandise and the model and serial numbers, plus descriptions, into the website. By the next morning, Vegh said, the system tells them and police whether the items match theft reports from across the country. Merchants can then hold onto the items.

Allen Spychalski, manager of Cash Generators, a second-hand store at 512 W. Edison Road, said the program has significantly reduced the number of stolen items coming to his store — down to just once a week.

He said he's also able to see whether the seller has repeatedly taken stolen goods to other stories.

Before, they didn't have any way to tell if someone was selling a stolen good, though it's suspicious when someone asks far less than an item is worth, Vegh said.

Assistant Police Chief Dan Gebo said the city's old process, using hand-written documents, left detectives to go from store to store in search of stolen items — often taking months. That also makes it hard, he said, to estimate how often stolen goods are taken to pawn and used-good stores.

Mishawaka police will plug into Leads Online on Monday as businesses are notified. South Bend began using it in the last year.

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