Pawn shops help police track down stolen valuables

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POSTED: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 6:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 9:56am

Sometimes it is difficult for police to return jewelry or other valuables to people who were robbed. But local pawn shops have both a legal responsibility and a financial incentive to reunite owners with their stolen items.

"People come in, 'hey, have you seen such-and-such, or has so-and-so pawned something.' We get that," said Jeffrey Knight, who owns Bayou Pawn & Jewelry.

The first thing a clerk does when someone brings an item to a pawn shop is a common sense check.

"We do look at the item, we look at the customer, we kinda see if that fits," Knight stated.

It the clerk feels like the seller could be the legal owner of the item, s/he gets a lot of information about the seller, which pairs with security camera footage to provide a strong identification.

"So not only do we have their driver's license, current driver's license information, we have their fingerprint and we have their picture," Knight mentioned.

Pawn shops are heavily regulated, at the federal, state, and local levels. In Louisiana, pawn shops are licensed by the state Office of Financial Institutions. Since they make loans, they are subject to the same scrutiny as banks. Since many sell guns, they are also subject to firearms laws.

Pawn shops are required by law to provide local police with a complete daily inventory of every item they take in. They have to hold every item they purchase for 30 days, and every item pawned to them for 90 days. That wait time allows police officers to cross-reference those inventory lists with reports of stolen items.

"Well if he has a report of a theft with a black toolbox with LDB written on the lid, with specific items in that toolbox, well, then they can call."

There is also a subscription service Bayou Pawn & Jewelry contributes to which allows law enforcement nationwide to view its inventory, in case someone tried to evade local officers to sell stolen merchandise.

Nationally, approximately half of one percent of all items handled by pawn shops had been stolen. "I don't want stolen merchandise, because I lose (money)," Knight stated.

Both the Baton Rouge Police Department and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office have special divisions dedicated to working with pawn shops to recover stolen items.

To protect oneself in the event of a robbery, create a personal inventory of your valuables.

"Jewelry, electronics, no matter what it is, if it's valuable to you and it has a meaning to you, then of course you want to document that somewhere," said Cpl. Don Coppola, a spokesman for the BRPD. "Maybe include a photo of it, a serial number, a model number, and put that in a safe place."

Cpl. Coppola also suggested people should file a police report as soon as they believe something was stolen. The faster an officer knows what to look for, the more likely it is those stolen items will come home.

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