Mercer Sheriff's Department

PRINCETON — When burglaries and break-ins occur and property is stolen, law enforcement tries to track down the stolen goods by inquiring at pawn shops and other places where it could be sold; a free computer database could makes this process easier for both business owners and investigators.

Chief Deputy Joe Parks of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department spoke recently with the Mercer County Commission about proposing an ordinance that would require pawn brokers and scrap dealers to put their purchase records on the website LeadsOnline, a free service pawn brokers can use to report transactions and help trace stolen items.

“It’s an online system,” Parks told the commissioners. “It is created by people who buy secondhand goods and sell property or pawn it.” Parks told the commissioners.

LeadsOnline is “entirely free” for pawnshops and other businesses to use, he added.

“We came into using LeadsOnline back in 2018 and it is a huge success,” Parks said.

In 2019, there were 88 burglaries in Mercer and 26 breaking and entry cases. These numbers dipped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic that kept many people at home; there were 57 burglaries and 29 breaking and entry cases that year.

“But guys, we’re getting ready for it to go back on a surge,” Parks said. “It’s already surging back up again.”

The free service helps law enforcement agencies track down stolen goods without visiting each pawn shop in person, and it keeps the owners from having to see a deputy’s cruiser parked outside their business, he stated.

“Every one of these involves, individuals, families and businesses that are here,” Parks said. “Every time we have one of these property crimes, we run it through LeadsOnline. If they have a serial number or any identifying marks whatsoever, we find it ( he snapped his fingers) like that because they’re reporting it.”

LeadsOnline access cost the sheriff’s department about $30 a month, and using it once can lead to recovering about $1,000 in stolen property, he said, adding that the only why the system is success is when everybody uses it.

Parks asked the county commission to consider an ordinance which would require pawn shops to use LeadsOnline. He added that the sheriff ’s department would not expect businesses to input the backlog of all their inventory into the system, but just the purchases they make after signing up. If a suspect says that he pawned an item at “X Pawn,” the department can check LeadsOnline and not visit the business itself.

Mercer County President Gene Buckner asked whether an ordinance would be necessarily if shops volunteered to use the free system, and Parks replied that there could be some who will “buck it” because they prefer another system.

Buckner said, who said he was not opposed to an ordinance, said he was willing to “do the legwork” and visit pawn shops to help owners understand the benefits of the system. It would involve them signing a contract in which they would agree to use the service.

Parks said it was already in the State Code that pawn shops have to report their purchases.

“If it’s in the State Code, why do we have to have an ordinance?” Buckner asked.

Parks replied that using LeadsOnline would save “everybody legwork and time.”

“Both sides win. They just have to put the time into using it,” he said.

Commissioner Greg Puckett said that he thought the system was “a great idea.” Any draft of a proposed ordinance would have to be sent to Prosecuting Attorney Brian Cochran to be checked, and the commission would have to conduct three public hearings before an ordinance could be enacted. He said the commission could see about putting the proposal on its May agenda for discussion.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline. com

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