February 28, 2014
Today's pawnshops are not the seedy places they were before they were regulated, West Lafayette police Lt. Troy Harris said, but sometimes stolen merchandise still finds its way to these shops.
West Lafayette police subscribed last week to leadsonline.com as a way to solve some theft cases.
Chief Jason Dombkowski was at a trade show and stopped by the leadsonline.com booth, where wares were being demonstrated.
"We immediately were able to solve some crimes," Dombkowski said. The software found items stolen from West Lafayette that had been sold at pawnshops in Indianapolis, Chicago, San Diego and somewhere in Texas.
"It's a pretty cool tool," Dombkowski said. "They are able to access items entered into NCIC — National Crime Index Computer — and then cross reference."
Stolen items are often sold to unsuspecting buyers and often change hands several times before winding up at a pawn store, where the seller and the buyer might legitimately have no idea that the item is hot.
"These days, they're pretty well regulated," Harris said. "They run reputable businesses and keep good records."
Those records hold the key to solving the crimes, Harris said. Often when someone sells merchandise at a pawn store, the seller must leave a copy of his ID, and in some cases must leave a thumbprint, Harris said.
Pawnshops in the area are pretty good at providing police with records of items that are pawned — or more specifically, left as collateral for a loan. But getting them to provide serial numbers from items the stores have purchased is a little more challenging.
"I'm not against finding people who are doing things illegally," Randy Ramsey, owner of RamZs Emporium, said. But tracking down the serial number on each item his store purchased and sending it along to police creates a couple of problems.
First, not every item has a serial number, and serial numbers are in places that require disassembling the merchandise. Ramsey also voiced concerns over customer's privacy after that data is submitted to leadsonline.com.
In some places, it's the law that pawnshops submit inventory records for items that stores buy, but not here, Harris said.
He admits that the work can be time consuming for pawnshop personnel. Harris is hoping that the software has become more user friendly, that the stores can free up some employee hours to enter the data and that pawn store owners will buy into submitting inventory lists.
Regardless, the subscription still tracks items that appear in venues where ordinances require stores to report inventory. That's how Dombkowski said he was able to see stolen merchandise in other states.