Always room for hope

Published 9:26 pm Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Suffolk police have proposed a new requirement that the city’s pawnshops improve their methods for identifying the people who use the businesses to exchange items for cash.

Most folks who patronize pawnshops are not criminals. They’re simply regular people who — for any number of different reasons — have found themselves in financial trouble and are looking for a way to pick up a few bucks by pawning or selling unneeded possessions.

But the industry also attracts criminals seeking to unload stolen items for quick cash, and the new law is intended to help keep that from happening. From now on, pawnshop operators will be required to upload item descriptions and photos as well as a copy of the identification of the person pawning or selling the item. The uploaded files will be sent to a centralized database that includes information from nearly all of the cities of Hampton Roads.

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The police department will have access to the information immediately, and serial numbers are automatically checked against databases of stolen items. Records can be searched by item or by the person. This will make it much easier for police to identify, for instance, a “gold necklace with diamonds.”

Suffolk will pay $10,588 a year to LeadsOnline for fees, training, customer service, updates and maintenance of the tracking system, and Police Chief Thomas Bennett expects the city to at least break even on that cost when balancing the savings it will realize from no longer being required to do so much of the same work manually, as it has in the past.

If all goes well, the new system will have other benefits, as well, not the least of which will be to make it harder for thieves and other criminals to fence stolen merchandise in Suffolk’s pawnshops. And if they know such items will be harder to sell, perhaps they’ll be less likely to steal them in the first place. There’s always room for hope.