Those dusty shelves could contain that DVD player, Xbox 360 or digital camera that thieves took from your home.
Even though some pawn shop owners say they don’t want to stock stolen merchandise, it often cannot be avoided. That’s why Schenectady wants to make finding such loot easier by imposing more rules on second-hand stores.
The rules would subject the stores to impromptu visits from police to see what goods they have. The businesses also would be required to ask people selling or pawning items to provide a state driver’s license or passport as identification.
Store owners also would face fines for not regularly reporting what merchandise they take in, or if they don’t ask for the required information from sellers.
Such changes will not only make the hunt for stolen goods easier, but also will help discourage stores from hiding hot merchandise under the nose of law enforcement, Schenectady police say.
“Right now we don’t have the ability to go in and take a look at these things,” said Nathan Meehan, the city police department’s lead crime analyst, who requested the new ordinance. The City Council has discussed it, but has yet to vote on the measure.
“If stores are purchasing stolen property, they’re not going to record it,” Meehan said. “It limits our ability to follow up.”
Four second-hand dealers and a scrap yard currently fax to police lists of the items they purchase and the names and addresses of the sellers. Despite the ease of selling on the Internet, such stores still exist — and also often sell their wares online.
But the stores often accept other forms of picture ID, such as those used to obtain government assistance. And handwriting on faxes can be incomplete or illegible, Meehan said. A new e-mail system or Internet site will be devised to receive the information.
Albany began requiring an electronic report of merchandise from its second-hand dealers last year.
Dennis Schanbacher, owner of State Street Coin and Jewelry, said the proposed rules don’t bother him because he said he already meets those standards. His store is filled with baby items, furniture and ceramic knick-knacks, as well as an array of electronic gadgets.
He said he asks many questions of his sellers to root out criminality. About six months ago, he said, he thought he bought a legitimate coin collection from two men who were building contractors but ended up losing the $500 he paid for the coins after police charged the contractors with stealing the collection from a house they were working on.
An employee at Brandywine TV and Electronics, who would not give her name, said the business regularly faxes merchandise sheets to the police but said the store accepts as identification other picture IDs and out-of-state driver’s licenses. She said the store, which sells old televisions, air conditioners, DVDs and a host of other appliances, does not take laptop computers because they often are stolen items.
Stores would face up to $1,000-a-day fines for failure to comply with the new law. Meehan said he expects the fines will be a deterrent, rather than a frequent penalty.
Police say the ordinance also will include a new definition of second-hand dealers that will include places like jewelry stores that buy gold jewelry and shops that purchase and sell used cell phones. The new rules would not apply to things like garage and tag sales or used clothing and book stores.
The city’s law department currently is crafting the legislation. It’s unknown how soon it will be presented to City Council for a vote.
“We have a good handle on what places are dealing second hand and which ones are not,” said Schenectady Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett. “The problem is by current law, it doesn’t cover too many places that exist.”