2017-09-08 / Community

South Portland to toughen rules for pawn brokers

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — A proposed ordinance update in South Portland will require that pawn brokers and secondhand dealers create more detailed records, hold on to purchased items for a longer period of time before resale and turn goods over to police on demand.

“These changes will make it easier for the department to search for and track down items that have been reported stolen,” Police Chief Ed Googins said at an Aug. 30 city council workshop.

Asked by Councilor Eben Rose to explain the reason for the new rules, Googins said there was no one motivating factor.

“Sporadically, we have had problems along the lines of getting items back from pawn shops because they have actually laid cash out and are now claiming that item” Googins said. “Also, there were some recent changes in state law that we have not yet incorporated. So, it’s a little bit of housecleaning, and little bit of making the ordinance better.”

“I just want to make sure, we are not awash in stolen property then?” Rose asked.

“We are not,” Googins replied. “And I don’t really want to highlight the problems, although there have been some, as most of the licensees have been very good and understanding, because (being presented with stolen items for sale) is part of the nature of their business, actually.”

The largest single change to the ordinance makes it illegal for a pawnbroker to buy or trade any item they know “or have reason to believe” has been stolen, or to conduct business with any person when “knowing or having reason to believe the seller is a thief.”

Councilor Claude Morgan asked if that section might be redundant, given that it’s already illegal under state law to knowingly receive stolen goods. However, Googins said the point was not to make it illegal locally, but to increase the chances of successful prosecution in court.

“Yes,” Googins said, acknowledging the seeming duplication. “But (such a crime) would also violate the ordinance, and an ordinance violation is a civil violation. The burden of proof is less. It’s (based on) a preponderance (of evidence) as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt. So, it’s good to have that in the ordinance.”

“I give my blessing,” Morgan said. “I defer to the chief on his research and expertise and outreach to the community. I would be willing to move forward with this language.”

Among other changes, the update to Chapter 14 of South Portland’s code of ordinances, which governs “licenses, permits, and business regulations, generally,” would require that pawn brokers and secondhand dealers turn over items in their inventory upon demand of any police officer.

“The pawnbroker shall relinquish any item suspected, believed or known to be stolen, by either the pawnbroker or the police department, to any police officer investigating such theft, with a receipt given therefor,” according to the draft.

Also, instead of completing a sworn statement form with the identity of the seller, the dealer would have make a copy of proof of identification “in the form of a motor vehicle operator’s license, military identification card, adult liquor identification card or similar item,” and transmit that data, along with information on the item purchased, pawned, or traded, including a photo, to the police chief within 48 hours of the transaction. The dealer would have to retain records for two years, and would be barred from reselling the item for 15 days – an increase over the current waiting period of 10 days.

The new 15-day hold, Googins said, “is consistent with changes in state law”

Googins also noted that the 48-hour notification is something that has been in place informally for almost two years, with South Portland Police Department helping dealers set up accounts on the Risk Property and Recovery Tracking System run on the New England State Police Information Network.

“The benefit of this free program is that the data is searchable by any member agency looking for stolen items,” Googins said. “This has been very effective and has led to many recoveries of stolen property and the clearance (as open investigations) of numerous burglaries and thefts.”

The section of the ordinance that applies to secondhand shops initially dropped a provision that exempts “bullion oriented gold, silver, platinum or palladium coins or bars” from the waiting period for resale. However, Googins noted that after circulating a draft copy of the proposal, one store owner advised him this particular exemption needs to remain.

“These items are included in the definitions of precious metals in state statute,” Googins said.

In one other difference between pawnshops and secondhand stores, owners of the latter will not have to track, retain records or notify police for items taken in by donation or on consignment.

There was no comment from the public during the Aug. 30 council workshop on the proposed ordinance update.

The new rules were slated for a first reading at the Wednesday, Sept. 6 regular council meeting. That session took place after the deadline for this week’s Sentry. Final passage is expected at the council’s Sept. 18 meeting.

— Staff writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

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