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Pawn policies pose problems for police

Unlike Md., neighboring states don't require shops to share information

Unlike Md., neighboring states don't require shops to share information

September 24, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - It's no coincidence that television sets, tools and jewelry on pawn shop shelves are the same types of merchandise that turn up in police stolen property reports, said Berkeley County Sheriff's Department Lt. K.C. Bohrer.

But while some Tri-State investigators can more easily make connections between the two, Bohrer said that in his jurisdiction, without laws or county ordinances requiring pawn shops and secondhand stores to provide police with business information, connecting the dots is not a snap.

In Maryland, state law requires that pawn shops submit to law enforcement agencies pawn slips that itemize goods sold or pawned and provide the identities of the people who brought them to the shop, said Hagerstown Police Department Detective Casey Yonkers.

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But West Virginia and Pennsylvania do not have state laws mandating that pawn shops provide information on their customers or their dealings, Bohrer and Chambersburg (Pa.) Police Department Detective Sgt. Dianne Kelso said.

"This isn't against pawn shops, but the items they sell are directly in proportion to the crimes we have reported," Bohrer said.

He said that it makes it difficult to find stolen goods when all but one of the at least eight pawn shops in Berkeley County won't readily tell the sheriff's department who sold items to their stores.

"It's very frustrating, but there's no way we can force compliance," he said.

Bohrer said that sheriff's department investigators "were able to forge a cooperative effort" with Frazier's Pawn Shop, at 922 N. Queen St. in Martinsburg, W.Va.

That shop regularly provides pawn slips to the sheriff's department, even though it is not required to do so.

"I like to think my business helps (police) out," said David Frazier II, owner of Frazier's Pawn Shop.

Frazier also gives the Martinsburg Police Department copies of pawn slips, as is required under a city ordinance that mandates that pawn shops within city limits keep records of their business and submit them to police.

"Because of the ordinance in the city, it allows us to get a daily record," said Martinsburg Police Sgt. George Swartwood. "It gives us a database in case we do come across stolen property."

Chambersburg has an ordinance similar to Martinsburg's, Kelso said. She said that secondhand stores under the direction of the ordinance are "absolutely cooperative."

She refers to the shops as secondhand stores because, in Pennsylvania, stores taking in secondhand property are not required by law to hold onto merchandise after the property is purchased.

Frazier said he is required to hold onto property for seven days and Maryland pawn shop owners are required to hold onto precious metals for 18 days, according to the Annotated Code of Maryland.

When someone brings an item to Frazier, he will either buy it outright from the customer or the customer will pawn the item, with the shop loaning him money on it.

Frazier said he holds on to the item for a specified amount of time, at which point the customer is to pay him back the original amount of money and a fee.

Most of the time, people pawn items just to "keep a roof over their head," Yonkers said.

Kelso didn't say whether a state law requiring secondhand shops to cooperate with police would help out police in Pennsylvania. But, she said, "Any information that a police department is able to get above the norm has the potential to help us."

Bohrer, head of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department's Criminal Investigations Division, said Maryland's requirement that pawn shops provide information makes the businesses "more lawful."

"We find that we have problems with pawn shops that are not quite legitimate," he said.

Yonkers said he doesn't have that problem in Washington County.

He has the county's five pawn shops and lists of each of their purchases at his fingertips. He compares on a daily basis police reports that list stolen merchandise with the slips of about 2,000 items pawned a month to find connections. Yonkers said his desk is covered with sticky notes and name lists that he's compiled in the process of seeking patterns.

"Things catch my eye like someone from Waynesboro (Pa.) pawning 30 pieces of jewelry," he said.

McConnellsburg (Pa.) Police Department Chief Gary Long said that since there are no pawn shops in the department's jurisdiction, officers there look to the Hagerstown Police Department to help them recover stolen property.

"With burglaries and thefts, most of the time because we live so close to the Mason-Dixon line, (stolen property's) taken south," he said.

In Maryland, those who pawn goods must, before making a deal, present one valid photo identification card and another identification card, such as a Social Security card, Yonkers said.

Frazier said he requires one form of photo identification and said he will try to help owners of stolen property find their merchandise at his shop if it's there.

"I tell people I don't want nobody's merchandise if it doesn't belong to them," he said.

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