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To catch a thief: Police, some Cape Girardeau business owners disagree about value of new anti-theft database

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lisa Wolters of Jackson discusses jewelry with Bill Galloway on Saturday at River City Coins in Cape Girardeau.
(Fred Lynch) [Order this photo]
Cape Girardeau police are working to convince city leaders to adopt a new online database aimed at recovering stolen goods that sometimes land on the shelves of pawnshops, jewelry stores and businesses that deal in secondhand items.

Owners of several of those businesses, however, say they have yet to be sold on the system known as Leads Online, and suggested that the demands of the electronic tracking system will drive up costs, create an undue burden on small business and perhaps make a few feel forced to relocate outside the city's borders.

The Cape Girardeau City Council is considering the system that has already been implemented by more than 3,600 law-enforcement subscribers and 21,000 investigators nationwide. Several Missouri communities have already implemented the program, including Ballwin, St. Charles, St. Louis, St. Peters, Chesterfield, Berkeley, Kansas City, Creve Coeur, Nixa, Springfield, Nevada and Boonville.

The council was set to vote on the plan at its meeting last week, but the issue was tabled after three merchants expressed concern and urged more study. One of them was Jim Maevers, who owns Pastimes Antiques in downtown Cape Girardeau. Maevers called the suggested changes unrealistic and burdensome.

"It's going to cost labor, it's going to cost extra time," he said. "If this happens, it could really be a detriment to our business."

Mike Sprouse, owner of River City Coins, talks about the business Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 in Cape Girardeau.
(Fred Lynch)
Local cops disagree and said that business owners should not feel intimated by a program that is so simple that new cashiers in other nationwide chains, such as Best Buy, don't realize they comply with this ordinance already.

According to the police department's point man on the project, patrolman Joey Hann, the service will help speed up investigations in a department with limited manpower. Financial detriment, Hann said, will be offset because participation does not require software upgrades.

And if the council adopts the system, Hann said, it would create vast amounts of data that detectives would have at their fingertips to track stolen property.

"My biggest selling point is it's going to return stolen property back to the rightful property owners," said Hann, who works in the department's community service division. "Contrary to popular belief, that's what officers want to do."

Another, Hann said, is that the system created by a Texas-based company would help address a problem that traditionally has pushed the city's crime rate for theft-related crimes above the national average. The number of robberies in Cape Girardeau has swollen during the last decade with 36 offenses reported in 2002 and 94 last year, according to statistics provided by the department. Burglaries were up to 394 in 2011 from 252 in 2002. Thefts also contributed to the 3,880 arrests made last year with the total number of larcenies in 2011 totaling 2,017 -- up from 1,776 in 2002.

For the past six months, the police department has subscribed to Leads Online's subscription service, Hann said. But without amending the ordinance, that is only half the picture, he said. For this to work, Hann said, the so-called pawnshop ordinance needs to be amended to require businesses more susceptible to buying stolen goods to participate.

The proposal, expected to resurface at the council's Oct. 15 meeting, would repeal the existing page-and-a-half ordinance that regulates pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers and replace it with a six-page municipal law. Some of the new language calls for implementing Leads Online. If approved by a majority of the council members, the new stipulations would apply to pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers that engage in the purchase, sale or trade of used articles. That means the new ordinance would also apply to businesses that deal in scrap metal, coins, electronics, videogame systems, jewelers and precious metals and stones.

Under the proposal, those types of businesses -- estimated at about 30 citywide, according to Hann -- would be required to keep records of their transactions. That is required now, Hann said, but some store owners keep more meticulous records than others. Some simply scribble onto notepads, he said.

With the changes, shops would have to log addresses, sex, race and a description of the seller and a correct driver's license number and a digital photograph. Each item must be itemized separately, under the proposal, which some business owners see as another chore to extend their already busy work weeks.

"We're already working 50, 60 hours a week," said Mike Sprouse, who has operated River City Coins here since 1985.

Sprouse suggests that police implement a program in which they inform those dealers who buy or sell the items that were stolen so that they can keep an eye out. If a gun is stolen, notify the pawnshops, he said. If it's a coin, let Sprouse and his competitors know.

"I believe this would be as effective, if not more so," Sprouse said, "than the cumbersome and onerous ordinance as proposed."

A business won't have to upgrade its existing computer system, Hann said, but the new amended ordinance would require business owners to make sure they have functioning computers and Internet service. The ordinance, to the dismay of some, allows the police chief or anyone he designates to have general supervision over all pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers.

The ordinance gives the department the power to inspect these places of business whenever the department deems it necessary to do so. The plan requires police to conduct regular compliance checks as well. Another change to the ordinance considers the soon-to-open Isle Casino Cape Girardeau, banning any new pawnshops from locating within a half-mile of it.

Mayor Harry Rediger said the council is looking to make some adjustments based on the comments made by shop owners last week. Rediger understands, he said, that some businesses are leery of more regulations.

But the mayor seems on board with the changes, at least in principle.

"It's a system that has proved itself to greatly improve on what we have," Rediger said. "I'm excited to be a part of that system."



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We should really avoid codifying a particular proprietary software system into our municipal law. What sort of vender lockin will we be trapped by?

If "Leads Online" likely business plan is to give us a low first year cost and then begin jacking up the rates on subsequent years what alternatives do we have and can we easily migrate to a new database? What if that particular company goes bust? Would our local stolen property listings be unavailable and would we be stuck with a useless regulation on our books?

-- Posted by Nil on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 1:37 AM

What are you hiding? Sounds like a great idea.

-- Posted by jcjayof61 on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 8:23 AM

They did not mention it requires merchants to record the ID of everone they sell to as well. There will be costly lawsuits as this violates federal privacy laws. An attack against all mercants that sell used goods, very few places in Missouri have this as it is costly and we already have a good system. It should be a state not a local issue-no matter how you spin this it is a bad idea.

-- Posted by mountainskys on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 8:27 AM

A bad idea? To stop people selling stolen property? The only way this is a bad idea is if you are a thief.

-- Posted by cartman89 on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 8:34 AM

Does it stop people selling this property? I dont think so. Is it to return stolen items- Definatly not! What we really need is system for returning stolen property on a state system. Leads online has nothing to do with that and police departments do not cooperate between divisions. The only person who benefits is the company Leads Online and those drawing extra pay for the busy work. We should not have private business writing our laws so they get rich! This will require a tax increase next year to pay for!

-- Posted by mountainskys on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 8:49 AM

Let's just tell the truth...The untold story here is that they are prerparing for the influx of pawn shops that will open up when the casino opens.

Just look at the list of cities that are doing this (Ballwin, St. Charles, St. Louis, St. Peters, Chesterfield, Berkeley, Kansas City, Creve Coeur, Nixa, Springfield, Nevada and Boonville). The one common denominator is a casino nearby.

There is a big change coming for your small town. These new pawn operators will be playing by different standards. These new laws will affect current businesses, but are intended for the newcomers.

-- Posted by smart_mom on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 9:26 AM

smart mom: "Just look at the list of cities that are doing this (Ballwin, St. Charles, St. Louis, St. Peters, Chesterfield, Berkeley, Kansas City, Creve Coeur, Nixa, Springfield, Nevada and Boonville). The one common denominator is a casino nearby."

Huh? Perhaps you should look at a state map and find the casinos near Nixa, Springfield, or Nevada.

Creve Couer, Berkley, St. Peters, & Chesterfield don't have casinos, but if you count anything "nearby" as being in a metropolitan region with a casino then more than half the cities in the state are "nearby" a casino simply by virtue of being KC or STL suburbs.

-- Posted by Nil on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 10:35 AM

Great idea. Do it.

-- Posted by bbqman on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 11:16 AM

Is there a link to this ordinance? Because from what I understand, they will not only have to get all of this personal information from sellers, but also from buyers. Where does this stop? Will we soon be required to have to take information from every buyer and seller on eBay, at garage sales, Craigslist, antique stores, and flea markets? Will we be required to take everyone's addresses, sex, race and a description of the sellers and buyers and get a copy of their correct driver's license number and a digital photograph of EVERYONE we sell to or buy from? Sounds like a perfect setup for identity theft to me.

-- Posted by TeamAmerica on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 2:22 PM

I have read a revised edition and note they have added this language "If any section, subsection, sentence, clause,phrase or portion of this ordinance is for any reason held invalid or unconstitutional by any court of competent

jurisdiction...." The company marketing this product know it is usconstitutional and this type legislature would never pass state law. Reminds me of some other recent local ordinances that ended up in higher courts. That is a waste of our taxpayer money. Do they even review these proposed laws with a lawyer first or do they just download them off the business web site that creates them?

-- Posted by mountainskys on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 5:23 PM

Craziness. Why not focus on the root of the problem and focus on theft prevention, not on recovery of items after the theft. Landlords in Cape recently got regulated out of business and now it looks like second hand dealers are being targeted. Who's next?

-- Posted by Make no mistake about it on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 8:24 PM

Leads online will allow personal, private information to be shared with a private entity in Texas. The National Pawnbrokers Association says that less than one-10th of 1 percent of pawned items are stolen, or less than one in 1,000.

Most of that would be in cities and the amount sold at antique dealers and jewelry stores in Cape Girardeau much less.

-- Posted by mountainskys on Wed, Oct 10, 2012, at 10:16 PM

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