During Thursday night’s East Ridge City Council meeting, Interim City Manager Mike Williams said he and Police Chief J.R. Reed had a meeting in which it was agreed the city would purchase the LeadsOnline software to track pawn shop transactions.
According to Chief Williams the software will be purchased for less than $2,500. The police should be using LeadsOnline in the very near future, officials said.
Earlier this month, a local pawn shop owner posted on social media a picture of a stack of pawn tickets that she says has piled up in her store for three years, not having been reviewed by East Ridge Police.
Anna Lovell, currently the owner of EZ Pawn, said that she was told by East Ridge police that an officer would come by periodically to pick up the reports, ostensibly to review them and compare what items came in to Lovell’s store against items reported stolen by residents of the city.
Lovell said she has been in the pawn business in East Ridge for about 30 years. She operated a pawn shop before EZ Pawn on Ringgold Road near Tombras Avenue. She said that in years past, she would take the pawn tickets _ which include information about the person selling items to the pawn shop and a detailed description of the item often times including a serial number _ to the ERPD. At some point in the past, she said, she faxed this information to the police department, which she is required by Tennessee State law to so.
Lovell said several years back an officer came into her store and told her not to bother faxing the reports, that an officer would come by and pick them up and take them back for review. She said that never happened.
It’s not that Lovell and the other owners of East Ridge’s five pawn shops are trying to avoid complying with the law. In fact, Lovell said that two years ago she began using software that allows her to file these reports electronically; it’s called “LeadsOnline.” Another city pawn shop said that it too uses LeadsOnline to file pawn tickets via computer terminal. An employee of Jay’s Pawn Shop on Ringgold Road told East Ridge News Online that it faxes reports to the police department.
East Ridge News Online spoke with ERPD Chief J.R. Reed earlier this week about department policy as it pertains to collecting and reviewing pawn shop tickets. Reed, who has been updating the department’s policy manual for more than a year, said the department “has no SOP” (Standard Operating Procedures) in its updated manual on pawn shops. Chief Reed accessed state law from the computer terminal on his desk and read that the law requires pawn shops to mail pawn tickets to local law enforcement.
City Recorder Janet Middleton told East Ridge News Online Wednesday that there are no city ordinances that specifically regulate pawn shops or how they are to report transactions to local law enforcement.
When asked about the LeadsOnline computer software program, Chief Reed said the department does not have it. However, department officials can sometimes get access to the program through neighboring law enforcement agencies that do have the software.
When asked why the department hasn’t purchased the software, Chief Reed said he didn’t have the money in his budget to do so. He said he had to be careful about going to the City Council to ask for money over and above the department’s budget. He recently had gone to the council to get some additional money to buy licensing software for computers that have been purchased to go into many of the city’s police cruisers. In the recent past, the department had also purchased computer tracking software to keep tabs on its property and evidence.
He was quick to point out that the department has offset some of these additional costs by selling surplus vehicles and various guns that have been languishing in the department’s property and evidence storage for years, the criminal cases of its owners having long been disposed.
A conversation with a representative from LeadsOnline said they could not give an estimate of how much the service may cost the city. It depends on how big the department is and how many computers will have access to the service. LeadsOnline officials did say that the service does not charge pawn shops to file its records online to law enforcement.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations “Crime in Tennessee” report from 2014, the most current year in which it is available, East Ridge reported 201 burglaries, 203 thefts from motor vehicles and 160 thefts from buildings. In those 564 incidents police cleared (made an arrest or determined it was unfounded in some way) 56 of them, or less than 10 percent.
East Ridge law enforcement officials through the years have said that the city’s most serious crime problem is property crime. A recent poll on East Ridge News Online asked the question; Have you ever been a victim of an auto burglary or a home burglary. Sixty-three percent of those responding said they had been a victim.
A number of other area law enforcement agencies use LeadsOnline to help them track pawn shop transactions and look for stolen items. Among those departments are the Chattanooga Police Department and the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department. Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol said his department is in the process of acquiring LeadsOnline, even though the city doesn’t have a single pawn shop. Chief Christol said his department would use the service as an “investigative source.”
A Captain with Catoosa County told East Ridge News Online that his department has used LeadsOnline for many years. He said it costs the department of 65 sworn officers about $3,000 a year for the service that he termed was “very useful.” The Captain said LeadsOnline allows his investigators to track items sold to pawn shops not only in Catoosa County but the surrounding region.
On Tuesday afternoon a man came into the East Ridge Police Service Center and told the receptionist that an investigator was expecting him. The man spoke briefly with the detective who moments later came out with two saws that were stolen from the man in the recent past. The detective explained to the man that he had recovered the items in a Chattanooga pawn shop.
The investigator told East Ridge News Online that he had called in a favor with a neighboring law enforcement agency to run the description and the serial numbers of the tools through its LeadsOnline data base. There was a hit on the Chattanooga pawn shop and the victim got his stolen items returned to him. The detective said that in the last calander year he has been able to return about $100,000 worth of stolen items to victims of theft.
He said that he was able to track more than $18,000 of jewelry stolen in one burglary to a pawn shop in North Carolina. The break in the case was a LeadsOnline hit, he said.
Law enforcement officials say that LeadsOnline and other database services like it are not a “silver bullet.” Many items that are stolen never make it to a pawn shop but are sold out of the back of a drug dealer’s car. Nevertheless, LeadsOnline, one detective said, is a valuable tool to have in the tool box.
Chief Reed said that he would very much like to get a program like LeadsOnline. In fact, during an interview in his office on Monday, he held up a document containing potential future purchases and it included LeadsOnline.
However, when asked if he thought the department would have LeadsOnline or a service like it in place in six months he said he did not think that it would.