The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Frederick pawnbroker Peter McDonald said his 20-plus years in the business have taught him what to look for when sniffing out a fishy item.

“One is when they don’t know anything about it,” said McDonald, owner of Frederick Estate Jewelers on Buckeystown Pike.

“They come in with a TV and I ask, `Hey, how long have you had it?’ And they say, “I got it for Christmas,’ and you look at it and the date code says 2007. There are certain questions you can ask.”

McDonald said he wants to avoid buying or selling stolen merchandise, on which he faces the possibility of taking a loss if police seize an item.

Like all licensed pawnbrokers in Maryland, his transactions are open for inspection by law enforcement in a statewide database officials say has become a valuable tool to help catch thieves.

The Regional Automated Property Information Database was launched in 2010, with the final county, Montgomery, signing on in December of last year.

Every stolen item that goes into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database can be checked against the RAPID database, allowing police to find items pawned in Maryland no matter where they were stolen.

“It’s definitely been a real asset to law enforcement,” said Frederick police Sgt. Joe Hayer, who said about a third of the officers in the department are trained to use the database.

Pawnbrokers are required to enter a variety of information into the database, including the seller’s name, driver’s license number, physical description and detailed descriptions of the items and serial numbers when applicable.

Investigators can search the database in a number of fields to generate leads, including a person’s name, a serial number or a general description of an item, said Gregg Warner, a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office detective who specializes in property crimes.

Warner said the unified statewide database generates more leads more efficiently, allowing investigators to spend more of their time following those leads than driving around the state looking for them.

“Before they had this system, every county was kind of on their own as far as how they did pawns,” Warner said. “Some would have databases you could call and search, but certain jurisdictions still had paper files you literally had to flip through.”

The ability to track items anywhere in the state is particularly helpful in light of the number of items stolen in other counties that make their way to places like Baltimore, where Warner said the easy availability of heroin makes it a one-stop destination for thieves looking to sell their stolen items for drugs.

In one recent case, investigators charged Frederick man Dustin Eid with theft of a $10,000 platinum and diamond ring after searching the database using his name, which was given to investigators as a possible suspect by the owners of the ring. They quickly traced the ring to a pawn shop in Catonsville, where investigators said he had sold it for $300.

In another case, Warner said they were able to trace within hours tools stolen from a Frederick home improvement store and sold to a pawn shop in Baltimore.

“We have a lot more multijurisdictional teamwork,” said Nicky Burris, who oversees the database in Frederick County as a pawn unit specialist for the sheriff’s office.

Deputies regularly make compliance checks at the county shops, pulling paper records and checking the descriptions against the items, Burris said.

Law enforcement officials aren’t the only people who are happy with the database. McDonald said it makes his life easier knowing all he has to do is record the necessary information and let the police do the rest.

“The database is fantastic,” McDonald said. “It helps the police and it helps us. Pawn shops in the past have had the reputation of being seedy places. To be a legitimate pawnbroker, you want that regulation. You want that relationship with the police.”

Warner said investigators often take steps to make it possible for pawnbrokers to be reimbursed for their losses when appropriate, including charging out-of-county thefts in Frederick County when the item was pawned locally.

Both Warner and Hayer described the relationship with the county pawn shops as a positive one. But they said items sold at shops other states without the same reporting requirements can pose a problem, despite the cooperation they said they have with law enforcement there.

Burris said that’s why Maryland officials have been in ongoing discussions with neighboring states about signing on to the database and making it a tool for law enforcement throughout the region.

Hayer said he and police throughout the state would welcome such a development.

“It would be great because if you look at the map of Frederick County, within a 30-minute drive you can be in Pennsylvania, West Virginia or Virginia,” Hayer said. “Making it a regional thing would really eliminate those state boundaries.”
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post,

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)