Better pawnshop tracking sought

Carroll ponders submitting bill in an effort to join proposed regional online database

December 29, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,sun reporter

When Baltimore and the five surrounding counties decided to start developing an electronic database to track stolen goods brought into pawnshops, Detective Sgt. Chuck Moore of the Westminster State Police barracks asked Carroll County to adopt a related local bill to give the county authority to regulate pawnbrokers.

But because Carroll has a board of commissioners, a bill to electronically monitor the county's pawnshops and establish a holding period for purchased items will first have to gain General Assembly approval. The county commissioners will decide next month whether to send the bill to Annapolis for the 2007 session.

Such measures are more easily enacted in the four metropolitan counties -- Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard -- which have charter governments and are not required to obtain General Assembly approval.

Since 2005, Howard and Anne Arundel have required all pawnshops to submit daily electronic reports of all acquired goods to the county police. In Baltimore County, pawnbrokers still turn in daily paper records that police then enter into a database, according to county police spokesman Bill Toohey.

For the planned regional database to succeed, Carroll County's laws need to be strengthened, Moore said. "Criminals are getting savvy by [selling goods] in another jurisdiction like Baltimore City or county," he said. "We are not communicating enough as we try to catch up with them. We need everybody on the same page."

Carroll's four pawnshops now send daily paper reports on transactions to the Westminster barracks, as required by state law. But electronic reports filed over the Internet would be instantaneous and could help recover stolen items before they are sold, Moore said. Increasingly, those robberies occur in one county, while the goods are taken to another to be pawned.

"If it works, it will be like a miracle for us trying to track things down," Moore said.

The proposed Baltimore-based database, which could eventually link with other systems in the region, is part of a state and national movement to trace stolen goods electronically.

"The technology will hopefully advance in the future," said K. Denise Eakle, who works in the property crimes section of the Howard County Police Department. "It is in the making, but it could come together now or could be five years from now."

Lawn-care equipment, power tools, electronics and jewelry are among the items most frequently stolen and pawned, Moore said.

The Tractor Supply Co. along Route 140 in Westminster has had more than $8,000 in chainsaws and other construction tools stolen during two burglaries this month, according to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. If that stolen equipment surfaces, it could more easily be recovered with the proposed database, said Lt. Phil Kasten, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

"Certainly, from any business perspective, there will be concern about the initial costs," Kasten said. "But despite the initial outlay of money, [the database] will eventually benefit everyone."

State police recently charged a suspect who tried to sell an item filched in Baltimore County to Baltimore's Best Pawn and Discount Jewelry Center in Finksburg, Moore said.

Carroll's bill might also establish a holding period for pawnshops to prevent them from swiftly reselling goods. Howard County's law requires pawnbrokers to hold all items for 10 days, Eakle said, in addition to the state requirement to hold jewelry for 18 days.

Because they lose money when stolen items in their care are confiscated, Carroll's pawnbrokers have given the proposed bill a warm reception. The state requires all pawnshops to check the seller's photo identification and record the make, model and serial number of every presented item.

But stolen goods still slip through the cracks, said Dan Hartman, the manager of Baltimore's Best.

"It sounds like it would help both sides," Hartman said. "If they can help get us some software for that, it would be wonderful. Anything that we can do to help would help us, too."

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