Making a living in Robeson County off of stealing other people’s stuff and then reselling it became a little more perilous on Monday night.
The county Board of Commissioners adopted an ordinance that will require pawn shop operators and recyclers of metals to collect information from sellers that can be entered into a computer system that will more easily flag stolen items and track down the culprits. The teeth of the ordinance isn’t what is required in terms of information — not much has changed there — but rather the requirement that the information become part of the data base for LeadsOnline, a private venture that the county has enlisted for less than $1,000 a month.
County officials look at the venture as an investment, believing it will enable detectives to do the legwork while sitting at a computer. Consider that a detective tracking stolen merchandise in the past would have had to drive across the county, making stops at pawn shops or recycling businesses here and over there during the search. Soon enough the search will require only a few key strokes from a computer at the Sheriff’s Office.
The ordinance requires pawn shops to be on line with the program within a month. LeadsOnline will provide the shops a how-to kit and the training, all for free. Metal recyclers will be a bit trickier, with the Sheriff’s Office identifying them and phasing them in. According to county officials, the ordinance — or a hybrid — will eventually govern jewelry stores and thrift shops.
Surprisingly, county officials say they have had very little push back from pawn shops and metal recyclers. On Monday, Bob Stogner, a Lumberton businessman and the former president of pawn shop associations nationally and for the state, spoke in favor of the ordinance. Our read is the retailers are OK with the extra paperwork as long as it is required of everyone; their concern is that in the past, honest merchants were working at a disadvantage because rivals would take merchandise that had obviously been stolen.
The ordinance is desperately needed. In recent years, there has been a surge in home burglaries and vandalism in Robeson County, particularly the thefts of cooper and other metals from businesses, and abandoned plants, which have been plundered. Two years ago Robeson County ranked No 3 in the state in property crime.
County officials say they are working with neighboring counties, including Dillon in South Carolina, to join the LeadsOnline program. The toughened local ordinance is likely to push some thieves outside of the county as they look to pedal stolen merchandise, so those counties would be wise to take a hard look. Their participation is critical.
The pawn shop and recycling businesses are among the few that can thrive during a sour economy as people sift through their belongings for items of value that they can turn into a few dollars or more. The ordinance that was adopted this week will make it more risky for people to sift through other people’s belongings in search of that payday.