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By Jeff Bahr
March 1, 2017
Before the Grand Island Police Department contracted with a company called LeadsOnline five years ago, keeping track of items purchased by local pawn brokers and secondhand goods stores was a lot more time-consuming.
The work had to be done manually, checking to see if items purchased locally showed up as stolen items on the National Crime Information Center computer.
"That took an eternity to do," said Capt. Kerry Mehlin, who's in charge of the department's Criminal Investigation Division.
The relationship with LeadsOnline, based in Dallas, saves time and money, Mehlin said.
Using information compiled from pawn shops and secondhand stores, LeadsOnline sends a bulletin to the Grand Island Police Department every time an item shows up that may be stolen.
The system works quickly. Sometimes Grand Island police will be notified that an item is stolen six to 12 hours after it was pawned, Mehlin said.
Thirteen Grand Island stores regularly buy things from the general public — including electronics, games and guns — that could be stolen. Those stores include the city's two pawn brokers. The rest are classified by the state as secondhand goods stores.
Anytime those stores buy something from the public, they're required to inform the Police Department. That information is now reported to LeadsOnline, serving the same purpose.
After receiving a list of transactions from each store, LeadsOnline puts the data into a records management system, to which Grand Island police have access.
The best thing LeadsOnline does, Mehlin said, is check that information against NCIC data to see if any of the items are stolen.
Grand Island police are notified even if a serial number match is close but not exact. Guns of different makes might have the same serial number, he said.
Police compare information about the stolen item with the description from LeadsOnline. If police feel it's a match, an investigator will go to the pawn shop or secondhand store.
Pawn shops and secondhand goods stores are required to ask for the ID of a person selling an item, said Mary Waskowiak, a Criminal Investigation Division records clerk.
The department's goal with secondhand shops and pawn stores is "to make it a very stupid move" for a person to try to sell a stolen item locally, Mehlin said. He hopes criminals are reluctant to sell goods "because they know they're going to get caught."
Thieves seldom keep items stolen from homes and cars for their own use.
"They always try to dispose of it somehow," he said.
Almost all of the stolen items discovered at the local stores come from Central Nebraska, Mehlin said. But every once in a while, people traveling on Interstate 80 will stop here and "dump something off at a pawn shop."
Last year, only a couple dozen items were definitely identified as stolen. The number was whittled down from 400 possibly stolen items, about which LeadsOnline alerted Grand Island police.
Waskowiak goes through LeadsOnline each day to make sure local stores are reporting in the required manner. If the information is not accurate or up to date, police will pay those stores a visit.
Pawn brokers are different from secondhand goods stores in that they have the ability to lend money on items received from the public.