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Authorities hope to track pawned items electronically
Database could help curb growing metal thefts
Gainesville Jewelry sales associate Mary Alice Smith examines a piece before buying from Helena LaPort on Tuesday afternoon at the Browns Bridge Road jewelry store.

With the blessing of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, the sheriff's office could begin using an electronic database to monitor items sold at local pawn shops and metal recyclers.

Maj. Woodrow Tripp of the Hall County Sheriff's Office said the database could put a significant dent in a growing problem of metal theft.

"We have homeowners whose air conditioning units are literally being ripped out of the ground," Tripp told commissioners during Monday's work session.

The proposed system would track items sold to metal recyclers and pawn shops, providing investigators an easier way to then track stolen items. One particular problem it would fix is tracking items stolen locally but sold in other counties.

"It gives us the ability to access a database by a company that will afford the opportunity to see where these items are being pawned," Tripp said.

"The problem that we're having is we don't have the ability to access the pawn shops. With this program we will be able to have access to those pawn shops."

Currently, the county requires pawn shop owners to fill out cards with the seller's information.

The sheriff's office then collects those cards and
enters the information into a department database.

But with the electronic database, other law enforcement agencies would have access and could alert Hall County to stolen items sold in their jurisdiction. It could only search jurisdictions that also use the database, however.

Commissioners will vote on the matter at Thursday's meeting.

Commissioner Ashley Bell raised concerns about the cost to business owners.

The business owner would be charged 20 cents per transaction, which Tripp said would typically be passed on to the customer. There would also be a one-time startup cost of $180 for a fingerprint scanner, as well as a cost to acquire a digital camera.

Bell also said the cost to train employees must be considered.

And without the participation of surrounding jurisdictions, the database could prove ineffective, he said.

"Craigslist will get more stolen items sold than at a pawn shop," Bell said. "And I hate to put the burden on the business owner at a traditional, old-school pawn shop versus the guy that's going to sell it on Craigslist anyway."

Many pawn shop owners, though, are in favor of the database.

"I'm all for it," said Don Scott, owner of Pawn International in Gainesville.

"Anything that would help people get their merchandise back if it's stolen is a good thing," said Phil Forrester, owner of Gainesville Jewelry, which sometimes buys items from customers.

The Gainesville Police Department is also in the initial stages of researching the system. Approval would be required by Gainesville City Council before the system could be implemented.

"If you want to look for a specific name you're having to go through paper after paper," said Lt. Carol Martin with the police department. "With this system you put in a name and it comes up."

Bill LaPointe, owner of Lanier Jewelry and Loan in Gainesville, said he has some concerns with the program.

Because the system the sheriff's office is considering is based out of Canada, LaPointe said some privacy laws could be at risk.

"You're storing confidential data at some place that our laws may or may not apply to," he said. "I am concerned about that because I am responsible for my customers' privacy ... and I get real nervous when that data is not someplace where there are firm regulations in place."

But as long as those concerns are hashed out, LaPointe said he would support the system.

Several pawn and jewelry shop owners said people seldom attempt to sell stolen merchandise because of the requirement to provide identification.

"A crook is not going to take (merchandise) any place where they take your picture, get your driver's license and turn the transaction in to the police overnight," LaPointe said. "They're going to take it someplace where they don't do those things..."