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Proposed Niagara County law seeks to recover more stolen property from pawn shops

Police know that a lot of stolen property ends up cashed in at pawn shops or other dealers in secondhand goods.

Niagara County officials want to make it easier to recover that property by requiring dealers to hold onto it for at least two weeks and to report their transactions to a central database.

A law containing those and other regulations has been introduced into the Niagara County Legislature, which is expected to vote Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the law Dec. 4. A vote on final passage is possible as soon as that night.

District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek was the official who brought the idea forward, inspired by similar laws in Erie and Monroe counties.

Erie County passed a pawn shop law in 2015, repealed it after complaints about the regulatory burden placed on the shops, and imposed a new one in January 2016.

"I worked in conjunction with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, putting that together," Wojtaszek said.

"I received a number of complaints from our local police departments that some of our local pawn shops are not cooperative with law enforcement when they are looking for stolen property," Wojtaszek said.

The law requires every pawnbroker and secondhand shop to obtain a county license, which costs $250 a year, and to report all their purchases within 48 hours to leadsonline.com, a website that calls itself "the nation's largest online investigation system."

The uploads are to include the customer's name, address, date of birth and digital photo, as well as a detailed description of the item purchased and the price paid for it.

There are exemptions from the license requirements for established antique stores, used-car dealerships and stores that derive at least half their revenue from selling secondhand clothing.

Also exempt are garage sales, but the law limits residents to three such sales per year and bans sales that last longer than three days.

Besides requiring dealers to keep items they buy for at least 14 days, the law requires them to hold goods longer at the request of any police agency.

"This is to ensure that stolen items don't get melted down and don't get resold before they can be located for crime victims," Wojtaszek said.

Licensed dealers will not be allowed to purchase any items from customers under age 18, and the dealers are not allowed to be open for business before 8 a.m. or after 11 p.m.

Robert Goldsmith, owner of Goldsmith's Auctions and Gallery Pawnbrokers in Pendleton, said he approves of the law's purpose, although he said its requirements are burdensome.

"They should call people like me before they write the law to work out as many kinks (as possible)," he said. "How do you enforce that and do it fairly? There could be a lot of problems."

The City of Niagara Falls has had a similar law since 2005, requiring secondhand dealers to hold goods for five days, according to Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto.

But he said the city law's reporting requirement isn't as strong as the proposed county law, which imposes fines of $200 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense and $3,000 for repeat violators and revokes their license for five violations in any 12-month period.

 

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