Pawn shops and second hand dealers are legitimate businesses which provide a service to the community by buying used goods from the public and providing a low cost alternative to buying new and unused products. Unfortunately, there are those who use these businesses to dispose of items obtained illegally unbeknownst to the business. This in effect makes not only the owner of the stolen item a victim, but also the business as they must take a loss if the item is subsequently recovered by the police.
In an effort to reduce opportunities for theft suspects to dispose of stolen goods at second hand dealers and pawn shops, identify possible theft suspects and return stolen property to the rightful owner, the Madison Police Department developed a Pawn Program and hired a Pawn Program Assistant in 2012. The purpose of this position is to monitor pawn and second hand transactions on a daily basis in order to detect patterns of activity that may indicate the sale of stolen goods by theft suspects. Access to an electronic database was also purchased in order to facilitate the monitoring of these types of transactions.
The program took shape after a City Ordinance was passed requiring each second hand dealer and pawn shop to submit to police an electronic copy of each transaction where an item was bought from the public. The transactions are uploaded to a database maintained by a third party vendor which the department then accesses. Prior to electronic reporting of second hand or pawn shop transactions, businesses were required to submit a paper transaction report of each transaction to the police department. This method was inefficient due to the amount of time it took for the transaction to be sent to the department and entered into the department's records management system. In addition, each transaction had to be entered into the department's records management system by hand which caused further delay when looking for stolen items and the individuals that sold them. This time lapse decreased the chances of recovering the item from the business and returning it to its rightful owner and catching those responsible for the theft.
I don't believe that enough can be said of the value of our pawn program. In 2012, the program was responsible for the recovery of $59,000 worth of goods. The numbers for 2013 are not yet available, but I believe that as we continue to develop this program and continue to proactively investigate the use of these businesses to fence stolen property, we will be more effective in recovering stolen items and holding people accountable for their illegal behavior.
Information for this blog was provided by and authored by Investigative Support Captain James Wheeler.