“Pawn shop” law stalls again

Bellevue’s proposed pawn shop ordinance will head back to committee a second time after council members disagreed on what the police chief’s opinion was of proposed property hold periods.

The ordinance would require any business that buys used jewelry, electronics, etc. to maintain records on the goods as well as the seller, and to hold the property for 30 days before reselling it. Although other municipalities follow the state law requiring a five-day hold, the City of Pittsburgh recently adopted a 30-day period, and municipalities throughout Allegheny County are exploring longer hold periods and joint databases to allow law enforcement agencies to identify and possibly recover stolen property.

At last month’s council meeting, just before the ordinance was to be considered on its final reading, jewelry store owner Mike Fodi told council that the extended hold period could be a burden to small business owners who cannot afford to wait to resell the property, or to gamble on the rapid changes in the price of gold.

The ordinance was sent back to committee at that time to consider reducing the hold period. Safety committee chair Jane Braunlich said that the committee had opted to maintain the 30-day period after discussion that included Chief Matt Sentner. She said she also checked with Sentner just days before Tuesday’s pre-council meeting as to the wording of the ordinance, and that he voiced no objections.

Council member Kathy Coder, however, read from an e-mail she said had been sent to her by Sentner, in which he said he favored a shorter hold period because stolen items were generally long gone by the time a victim discovered the theft, and the pictures and seller records kept by the business would be sufficient to identify and prosecute the thief.

Braunlich said that the intent of the ordinance was not just to prosecute criminals, but to help victims recover their property. She agreed that victims often do not discover thefts, particularly those by family members, right away, and the longer hold period actually would give them an opportunity to recover items that could include jewelry of sentimental value. In many of those cases, she said, families are unlikely to prosecute the thief anyway.

“All the pictures in the world aren’t going to get your jewelry back,” Braunlich said.”That’s what this entire ordinance is about, the victim.”

Coder made a motion to send the legislation back to committee. It was approved in a 5-1 vote with Braunlich opposed and Mark Helbling, Frank Camello and Lynn Tennant Heffley absent.

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