Pawn shops have long been havens for thieves trying to fence stolen merchandise.
And getting stolen items back to the rightful owners can be a daunting task, city officials say.
That is why Common Council members want to require pawn shops to digitally photograph and catalog each item pawned and to hold the digital record for at least 60 days. The enhanced record-keeping will help conform reporting requirements and is intended to discourage people from going to pawn shops to unload stolen property.
"If someone steals an item from you and pawns it, they have to show ID, but there isn’t a searchable database that the pawn shop has to keep," said Council President Darius G. Pridgen.
At least one pawn shop owner thinks the reform is a good idea, even though it means the businesses will have to do more work.
Brian W. Schmid, who owns Prudential Jewelers on Broadway, said his family has been in the pawn business in Buffalo for 160 years. Schmid said he is open to the changes, but they add more work for the owners and operators. And he pointed out that pawn shops in the city are "kind of doing it already."
"I like the idea. It adds a lot of extra time and expense," Schmid said.
Under current law, pawn shops must prepare a report of all articles received on the prior business day and provide the information to police upon request. The reports must be completed on forms supplied or approved by police, including computerized methods.
In addition, the forms must include a complete description of each article, including brand name, make, serial and model numbers, color and size. If the pawned item is jewelry, the description should also include details such as size, setting, shape, color, number of karats, type of stones as well as any initials, dates or inscriptions found on it.
The report also must include the name, address, age, height, weight, race and date of birth of the person pawning the item, and that information must be verified by having the person present a valid New York State photo ID. The person pawning the items also must sign a statement certifying the items are his or her personal property. And the code mandates that pawn shops have to hold onto each pawned item for only 21 days.
City lawmakers want to amend the code to require that all pawn shop owners and operators keep digital records - including a picture - on the person pawning the item or a copy of his or her ID and to keep the information on file for at least six months.
The idea came up after city detectives contacted Pridgen because they are frustrated that there is no digital record-keeping. They say it’s a problem when detectives go to the shops looking for stolen property, especially after 21 days.
Often people do not realize exactly what they have lost in a robbery or burglary until months later. By then, the pawn shop may have gotten rid of the item, and there’s no record, said Pridgen.
"If it’s been given back, or if it’s been sold, there’s no way for them to look at a database and see," Pridgen said. "And so this will help and hopefully hinder the amount of fencing that we’re seeing right now from people breaking in houses, going to the pawn shop."
Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a former police investigator, agreed.
"This is very important. It’s not just a simple, 'We want record keeping.' This actually is a tool to solve crimes," Rivera said.
The city Law Department is now drafting the amendment to the code. The Council will then vote on it.
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