New ordinance requires photos of sellers in all pawn transactions

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 10:12 PM

Local pawn shop owners fear a new county ordinance could hurt their business.

The Union County Board of Commissioners approved a new ordinance requiring cash converter businesses, pawn brokers, precious metals dealers and secondary metals recyclers to use an electronic system to report details of transactions.

Most of these businesses already collect information about the sellers and items to submit to local law enforcement agencies. The new ordinance requires all county businesses of that type to input the information electronically through a system called LeadsOnline. Before, two Union County Sheriff's deputies collected these reports from all around the county daily.

Electronic submission offers advantages to these businesses, like a shorter hold period before they can resell items. But it also poses some challenges.

The ordinance requires all cash converters, pawn brokers, precious metals dealers and secondary metals recyclers to use electronic reporting to submit information about the items, like serial numbers, and the person selling them. But only pawn shops and cash converters are required to take photos or video of the seller and items under the county ordinance, Waugh said. State law already requires metal recyclers to report photos and identity information.

David Waugh owns several pawn shops including United Pawn and Top Dollar Jewelry & Loan in Monroe. He asked law enforcement several years ago to begin using LeadsOnline to submit reports, Waugh said.

He spoke about the ordinance to both commissioners and the Monroe City Council this week and asked officials to change one requirement of the ordinance. While he supported use of a new electronic reporting method, Waugh opposed mandatory photos of sellers.

"I'm in Monroe, so the county ordinance doesn't apply to me yet. But it will if if the city adopts it," Waugh said."About 95 percent of my business is from people who need a small loan until payday. We are a poor man's bank. We loan money when the banks don't."

Waugh fears required photos will scare off law abiding customers who simply need fast cash. If they refuse the photo, Waugh said the ordinance prevents him from completing the transaction. The punishment for any pawn broker or cash converter who does not photograph or video record the seller is a Class 3 misdemeanor, $500 and possible jail time.

So far, customers have mixed reactions to the new policy, Waugh said. Some understand and others think it goes too far. If pawn brokers are required to take photos to make it easier for law enforcement to track stolen goods, Waugh asked why it is not required of other businesses that buy used items, like flea market sellers and video game dealers.

But the requirement should not intimidate law abiding customers from using pawn shops if they need the cash badly enough, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said.

"Maybe there are some questions about the ordinance. The answer is this — it shouldn't affect honest people who come in and need a loan," Cathey said.

There are no foolproof ways of ensuring pawn shop staff only buys legally obtained items, Cathey said. As an extra protection for the victims of theft, the ordinance gives investigators the tools to find the item's seller and try to recover any other items, he said. While identification documents can be forged, the image of a face and the item gives investigators a better chance of tracking down people who break into homes to steal things.

"If there's no issue with the items, we have no problem with the situation," Cathey said.

Last year, Waugh said both of his Monroe pawn shops did about 3,000 transactions combined. Of those, only four were found to involve stolen property. If his stores do the same level of business in 2013, Waugh said a majority of his customers will be entered into a national database for no reason.

"I just wonder why 99 and 9/10ths of my customers will be made to feel like common criminals," Waugh said.