September 7, 2013 in City

Many businesses unaware of changes in item-tracking law

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Axel’s Pawn Shop on East Sprague Avenue uses a computer program required by area law enforcement for all pawnshops to file daily electronic reports listing all items acquired the day before.
(Full-size photo)

Crime stats

Property crimes are the most common reported in the U.S. Common theft, or larceny, accounts for 6.3 million of the nearly 9.5 million property crimes per year. The rest are burglaries and vehicle thefts.

Source: U.S. census data, 2009

Also today

The Pawn Database System helps law enforcement identify belongings that were stolen and turned over to pawnshops or other stores.

Page A5

A state law requiring pawnshops to file daily police reports listing the items they’ve bought or taken on loan has expanded to include secondhand clothing stores and antique dealers.

But Spokane law enforcement officials say they need to spread the word to those business owners, many of whom have no idea the law – designed to help police find stolen property taken to pawnshops and secondhand stores – applies to them.

Jenny Stabile, owner of Spokane clothing reseller Carousel Vintage Boutique, said she’s never been informed about the law that requires businesses like hers to file reports when they accept secondhand items valued above $75. She understands why the law was expanded, however.

Those reports all go into a Spokane County-managed Pawn Database System used by area law enforcement to track items stolen from homes or businesses. Until now, nearly all the listed items were reported to police by pawnbrokers and businesses that buy precious metals and coins.

Those were the most common destinations for stolen property, said Dan Blashill, a Spokane County sheriff’s detective and manager of the county’s pawn database.

“But because we have seen stolen property head to other types of stores, not just pawnshops, we’re working with our counterparts at Spokane Police Department in contacting secondhand store owners,” Blashill said.

The rules are slightly different for pawnshops and secondhand resellers.

Pawnshops are required to make a daily report of all buying or lending transactions; secondhand stores only have to report purchases or credit-trades of property – such as furniture, jewelry, clothes or electronic devices – that will be priced at $75 or more.

That limit in the law has led at least one reseller to change prices to avoid dealing with the extra paperwork.

Beth Jepsen, manager of the Plato’s Closet store on North Division Street, said the store prices most of its Rock Revival jeans at $75, even though that item can sell for $100 or higher in good condition.

Blashill said the sheriff’s office and Spokane police will continue using education and persuasion to alert more storeowners of the reporting requirement. Limited agency resources have made that effort slower than they’d like, he added.

“The secondhand stores will all be contacted and educated on the state laws and gaining voluntary compliance as our work schedule allows,” Blashill said.

Although the reporting law was passed in the 1980s, it wasn’t until 2004 that Spokane County developed a fully electronic database to collect the property reports.

Because Idaho has a similar law, Spokane and Kootenai counties agreed to collect all their reports in the Spokane database. It now also includes reports from Lewiston and Newport.

Blashill said about 80 pawnshops contribute daily reports, 51 of them from Spokane County.

The database is large and growing in part because property crimes in Spokane and Kootenai counties are steadily rising. The 2012 FBI crime report for the city of Spokane identified a 23 percent spike in larcenies – the general term for common theft – from 2011. The Spokane Police Department’s monthly crime statistics say property crimes are up 5 percent this year from 2012.

Kootenai County crime reports are keeping step, with a 19 percent hike in larcenies between 2010 and 2012, according to the Idaho State Police.

Most larger pawnshops use computer programs to quickly provide key details such as name of the seller, product type, brand name, physical attributes and serial number, if available.

The list of items included in the database is vast, with the most common being cellphones, chain saws, guns, tools, bicycles, ladders, lawn mowers, DVDs, silver dollars, wristwatches, chains, rings and TVs.

Spokane law enforcement conducts property searches in the database daily, Blashill said.

Searches can be made by product type – such as bicycle, gun or laptop computer – along with other details such as brand name and color of the item.

Blashill also cross-checks the pawn database against the weekly Washington Crime Information Center spreadsheet, an updated report of stolen property across the state. Any hits are quickly flagged.

The Spokane pawn database usually finds three to five hits per week, Blashill said.

While pawnshops statewide and in Spokane were quick to join the reporting program, it took until last year for law enforcement to get daily reports from nearly all of Spokane’s secondhand jewelry buyers, Blashill said.

The law also applies to retail stores such as Best Buy that trade gift cards for used electronic devices, as well as payday lenders that accept jewelry as collateral. The pawn database has some limitations. It doesn’t distinguish items listed multiple times, the result of a person redeeming a pawned item, then pawning it again at the same store or another pawnshop.

The database also doesn’t eliminate items no longer sitting inside a store. If someone buys an item from a pawnshop, the database has no way to remove the item, Blashill said.

Since starting in 2004, the pawn database has collected between 4 million and 6 million entries. Blashill said the system added 570,000 item listings in 2012.

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