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Tracking pawned goods
City, county hope new system will help better solve theft cases

A new system that helps track items pawned or sold at pawn shops, secondhand stores and gold buyer locations will make it easier for law enforcement officers to solve theft cases, and is expected to cost taxpayers nothing.
Bulloch County Chief Deputy Jared Akins gave an informative presentation Tuesday before Bulloch County Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance requiring owners of such businesses to subscribe to LeadsOnline, a company based in Dallas that started in 2000, that provides a simple program that tracks items pawned or sold as well as the identities of persons pawning or selling them.
Statesboro City Council passed a nearly identical ordinance April 2 after Statesboro police Detective Lt. Rob Bryan presented the information to council.
Akins and Bryan “have worked diligently for several months to bring LeadsOnline to Statesboro and Bulloch County by coordinating efforts between law enforcement agencies and local area businesses,” Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner said. “Currently, both Bulloch County and Statesboro are using LeadsOnline as an investigative tool.”
Before 2008, investigators pursuing theft cases had to call pawn shops and other businesses that buy secondhand items or gold individually to check their records.
“It was fairly hit and miss,” Akins said.
After 2008, the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement investigators began collecting pawn records every two weeks, which required a sheriff’s investigator to be assigned to the task, resulting in 48 days out of the year dedicated to simply collecting the data, Akins said.
“With the increase in gold buyers, pawn shop volumes rising and other problems, it has become hard to keep up,” he said.
A second investigator hired to sufficiently handle the needs could cost around $48,000 a year. LeadsOnline, however, costs only $4,100 annually, and the sheriff’s office has already paid the 2013 fee, using seized funds from drug cases and other incidents, Akins said.
Akins said he anticipates future annual fees for the system would also be funded by seized funds.
The ordinance requires such businesses to email a list daily to LeadsOnline, including items pawned or sold to the business as well as the identification of the person pawning or selling. It also requires transient gold buyers to hold a fixed storefront in the county in which to do their business.
In the past, when visiting gold buyers set up temporary shop, a thief could sell stolen property and then the buyers would be gone quickly, with no record of who sold the stolen items, Akins said.
LeadsOnline will “eliminate the burden on the county and on the businesses and make it simple” to track pawned and sold items, Akins said. In the past a hold was placed on pawned items, but items sold outright were not held; the new ordinance will require a five-day hold on sold items as well, so investigators have time to locate and recover stolen items before they are resold.
Pawned items will be held 30 days (per state law) while sold items will be held five days, according to the ordinance.
LeadsOnline also has “an agreement with eBay which helps law enforcement to identify sellers that use the popular online auction site to sell stolen items,” Turner said. “Law enforcement agencies can run queries through LeadsOnline by entering serial numbers and descriptions of stolen items.”
The ordinance not only requires transient gold buyers to secure a fixed storefront from where they conduct business, but also requires documentation and photos of items they purchase, Akins said.
The LeadsOnline system allow investigators to search multiple jurisdictions.
“We can track Statesboro residents pawning stuff all the way to California,” Akins said.
Citizens will also be able to record serial numbers for cellphones, electronics and other valuables through the system, using a program called ReportIt, Turner said.
The ordinance does not include title pawn businesses, but does include secondhand dealers and businesses geared toward used electronics such as video game consoles, cartridges and accessories, which are popular items with thieves, as reflected in local law enforcement incident reports.
In February, all three agencies hosted a training session at the Bishop Building on the Georgia Southern campus near Paulson Stadium, Turner said. 
“Representatives from LeadsOnline presented a training session to over 60 law enforcement officers from 20 different area agencies and also offered training to local area businesses that are affected by the new ordinances,” he said.
In the county, there will be a $50 regulatory fee for businesses in additional to the occupational tax, Akins said. Businesses in the city are required to follow city procedure regarding fees.
Some businesses might have to upgrade computer systems and software in order to use the LeadsOnline program, Akins said. However, businesses with older computer systems can still manually enter their transactions with LeadsOnline if they wish, without having to upgrade.
“These logs are only viewable to the business that uploaded the information and law enforcement agencies,” Turner said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Bobby Coble, co-owner of Pawn City stores in Statesboro and other cities. “There are certainly some growing bugs to be worked out, to make sure it’s working properly, but it will be a good tool to help law enforcement.”
While he said pawn shops do not encounter stolen merchandise nearly as often as some might think, the tracking system will definitely help when someone does try to pawn stolen items.
“We don’t take in a lot of stolen merchandise, but we do work closely with police and the sheriff’s department – we have in the past and will in the future,” he said.
 “Several businesses in Statesboro voluntarily began using LeadsOnline prior to the ordinances being passed,” Turner said. “During that time, investigative efforts have already yielded positive results by using LeadsOnline.”

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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