Bellevue to take another look at proposed “pawn shop” ordinance

Bellevue Council will re-evaluate the borough’s proposed “pawn shop” ordinance after a business owner said the law not only could hurt legitimate businesses, but also could defeat its purpose of recovering stolen property and catching burglars.

The ordinance, which was scheduled to be considered on its third and final reading at next week’s regular council meeting, requires any business that purchases jewelry and precious metals, as well as electronics, to maintain records of the purchases, and then to hold the merchandise for 45 days before selling it. The Bellevue ordinance was patterned after one currently in effect in the City of Pittsburgh, which requires a 30-day hold on merchandise purchased by pawn shops, jewelers, gold buyers and others who buy secondhand goods.

Mike Fodi, owner of Fodi Jewelers in Bellevue, told officials at last Tuesday’s precouncil meeting that he has no problem taking pictures of the items he buys, obtaining a photo I.D. from sellers, and reporting that information to police each week. The problem, he said, was in requiring him to hold onto merchandise for 45 days.

With the price of gold capable of fluctuating so dramatically, he said, that 45-day hold could mean that he would actually lose money on the deal, or would be forced to offer so much less to prospective sellers that his business could no longer compete in the resale market. Actual pawn shops, he said, were better able to weather longer hold periods because they charge a fee to hold the merchandise they buy.

Another big part of the problem, he said, is that state law requires only a five-day hold on precious metals, and most municipalities around Bellevue have not enacted stricter ordinances. In addition to Pittsbugh’s 30-day hold requirement, Monroeville businesses must hold items for 15 days. He recommended that Bellevue’s ordinance include a hold period of no longer than 10 days.

Fodi also noted that people who commit burglaries in Bellevue usually do not try to sell the goods at local stores, where the items may be recognized as having been purchased at that store originally.

Police Chief Matt Sentner, who worked with council’s safety committee to draft the proposed ordinance, agreed that photographs of the jewelry would be sufficient evidence to prosecute someone for burglary or receiving stolen property. He suggested that Bellevue’s law maintain a 30-day hold mandate for electronics, because they are not easily identifiable by photographs.

What is missing from this picture, however, according to safety committee chair Jane Braunlich, is consideration of what happens to the burglary victims who may have lost items whose sentimental value far exceeds the market value of the gold or gems. Sentner and Fodi agreed that gold is usually melted down within days after it leaves the resale shop. A short hold period eliminates any chance of victims ever recovering items stolen from them. Sentner said that could happen anyway, because surrounding communities will not have the stricter hold regulations and that is where criminals will fence their merchandise.

Braunlich made a motion to return the proposed ordinance to the safety committee for reconsideration of the hold requirement.

“We can come up with something that would be good for our businesses and our residents,” said council president Linda Woshner.

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