Pawnbrokers say legislation is unfair

The Baltimore Sun

As a new law that would create an electronic database to track the stolengoods sold to Carroll County's four pawnshops goes to public hearing Tuesday, two pawnbrokers said the legislation unfairly regulates their businesses while not applying the same scrutiny to more ubiquitous stores that sell used items and antiques.

While the businesses that buy and sell used furniture, sporting goods, music CDs and appliances won't be regulated, the bill would require pawnshops to store all items they take in for 15 days after submitting an electronic record of the transaction to police. The pawnbrokers also worry that such restrictions will encourage offenders to drop pilfered items at the shops that are not regulated by police.

"Anybody that buys secondhand merchandise should be regulated the same as pawnbrokers," said Richard Rivkin, owner of Carroll County Jewelry & Loan, a pawn shop with locations in Westminster and Eldersburg. "If we're going to report, then everyone has to."

Carroll's database will tap into a larger system that Baltimore and the surrounding metropolitan counties have developed to monitor the traffic of stolen goods throughout the region. Carroll County had to ask the General Assembly to grant it authority to regulate local pawnbrokers. County commissioners are finalizing their county code on pawnshops and second-hand dealers that takes effect Oct. 1.

The county's pawnbrokers currently are not required to hold non-jewelry items before they sell them. Finding the space to now store items for 15 days before they move to the pawnshop's showroom will be a burden, brokers said.

Joel Hartman, owner of Baltimore's Best Pawn in Finksburg, said his 2,400-square-foot store only has 1,000 feet of storage space.

"We only have so much room," Hartman said. "They're going to curtail our business. If we can't take it in, [customers are] going to find another venue."

Hartman ran his family-owned shop in Baltimore, where the holding period is less than 15 days, before moving it to Carroll County about 15 years ago.

"We're just looking to be treated fairly," Hartman said.

Though Carroll's bill says it will regulate "secondhand dealers," only the four pawnshops in the county will initially be targeted, County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender said.

Once state police in the Westminster barracks have the database working smoothly with all county pawnshops, they will check other secondhand stores to make sure they are not taking in stolen goods, Det. Sgt. Chuck Moore said. Police will send out letters reminding these stores of the new law and that they should be filing records on any used jewelry they take in, Moore said.

"We're going to have to track all these places down," he said.

Implementing the 15-day holding period on regular items will make it easier for police to track stolen goods often brought in from other jurisdictions, Moore said.

State regulations governed Carroll County's pawnshops before the General Assembly passed the new law. The state's 18-day holding period on precious metals and gems will remain in effect, as it does in all jurisdictions.

But most counties focus on regulating pawnshops and pay less attention to less-clearly defined secondhand dealers, said Harry Loleas, deputy commissioner of occupational and professional licensing for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Bargain Barn, which sells used furniture and household items out of eight buildings in Taneytown, has a trader's license from the county, owner Joanne Glass said.

"I don't want to be a pawnshop," said Glass, who has operated her Taneytown business for over 20 years. "You've got to hold stuff and that would be more paperwork."

For those same reasons, Glass said she avoids buying and selling jewelry.

Three out of the county's four pawnshops have started submitting electronic records to police via the Internet, Moore said. Hartman's store, Baltimore's Best Pawn, will start submitting the records electronically by the time the legislation takes effect Oct. 1, Moore said.

"We have it kind of going now," he said. "They're just working some kinks out."

In the past, the pawnshops sent daily paper reports on transactions to the Westminster barracks, as required by state law.

After Tuesday's public hearing, Carroll's local law may be tweaked a bit to accommodate some of the pawnbrokers' concerns before it is officially adopted, Millender said.

"The more sets of eyes that look at something the better," Millender said of the measure.

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