February 7, 2014
When victims of home invasions and larcenies have property stolen, they might assume it's long gone.
But that's not necessarily the case.
Law enforcement officials say by making note of serial numbers and item descriptions, victims of property crimes can increase their chances of recovering stolen items that thieves have taken to pawn shops — and the Burlington Police Department and Alamance County Sheriff's Office are encouraging residents to make use of their online reporting system.
ReportIt is part of the LeadsOnline database that Burlington police and the sheriff's office began using last year to report and track stolen items. It allows anyone to create a free account and upload serial numbers, photos and other information about their property.
Lt. Brian Long of the Burlington police said pawn shops are required to report transactions to law enforcement agencies through an approved system. He said the agency used to rely on collecting paper slips, and eventually had officers manually upload files onto flash drives to gather serial numbers of items and names of customers. The agency began using LeadsOnline in July.
Through the electronic program, local pawn shops regularly upload files with information on the items they've taken and the customers who brought the items in. Long said participating law enforcement agencies can access LeadsOnline's national database with reports from pawn shops, scrap metal vendors and other dealers across the country, and match serial numbers to stolen property.
According to LeadsOnline, about 4,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide use its reporting database.
"It's not uncommon for us to recover stolen property from not only pawn shops, but some of these precious and ferrous metal vendors," Long said.
Long said over the past five years, police have seen a jump in the larcenies of copper, platinum and other metals because of the increasing price of the materials.
TRACEY HAITH, manager of Quick Cash Pawn on North Church Street in Burlington, uploads a file to LeadsOnline with information on his transactions every three days.
He said the process is pretty quick, and he can tell it's more effective for law enforcement.
"It's better for police," Haith said. "It helps them solve cases a whole lot quicker."
Haith said only a small percentage of items that come through his shop are stolen property — recalling that last year, that number was about 7 percent — but that after 21 years in the business, he usually can detect the signs of something not being right.
"We have a good judge of character," Haith said. "I know what to expect and look out for."
He said about half of their business is pawning — which is essentially a loan, where the customer receives money for an item given to the pawnbroker as collateral, and must pay back the borrowed money plus interest by a certain date before getting the collateral back. In North Carolina, pawnbrokers must wait 90 days before selling a pawned item.
About half of his other customers opt to sell their items to the shop.
Sgt. Curtis Morris of the sheriff's office said 20 cash converter stores in Alamance County — including pawn shops, jewelry stores, metal recyclers and antique dealers — have begun using LeadsOnline to report transactions, and he is working to bring more onto the system.
"All of them are required to report their sales," Morris said. "Even what they call an antique shop would be a cash converter."
Morris said a major factor in the success of a program like LeadsOnline is residents keeping track of their model and serial numbers, in addition to keeping photos of items.
"If it's done properly, it would help us greatly in not only solving crime, but getting people's property back, and help the District Attorney's office in prosecuting," Morris said. "When you match a serial number to something, (the defendant) is dead in the water in court."