Police propose amendment to pawn dealer ordinance

T-R PHOTOS BY JOE FISHER — Police Chief Mike Tupper said a new ordinance amendment is aimed at protecting businesses and reclaiming stolen property. The police department will return with another draft for discussion in August.

The Marshalltown Police Department records as many as 170 cases of burglary and 400 cases of theft per year.

In an effort to reclaim stolen property, the department has been investigating a new way to track down items sold to pawn shops, consignment stores and other locales in the business of reselling. During Monday’s regular city council meeting, members of the department discussed possible amendments to the code of ordinances chapter for junk dealers and pawnbrokers.

Police Chief Mike Tupper introduced the discussion item, noting the first draft of the proposed ordinance amendment is meant to help an understaffed department close cases by using technology and the cooperation of the business community to its advantage.

“We can’t solve all of the problems facing our community from public safety ourselves. We need help,” Tupper said.

The current pawnbrokers chapter of city code was last updated in 1991. The amendment discussed Monday was drafted by Cpt. Chris Jones and Lt. Kiel Stevenson after they researched how other communities are addressing the problem.

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Hall urged the police department to consider the burden he believed a proposed ordinance amendment would put on businesses during Monday’s city council meeting.

The draft includes three main components: a license requirement for businesses conducting second hand sales; recording of items bought and sold by businesses; and uploading records to a database which could be shared among multiple departments.

“The company we’re looking at doing business with has been in business for 20 years,” Jones said. “Tens of thousands of police departments are using it. It’s definitely something that would help us in our investigations.”

Jones and Stevenson met with business owners recently to discuss these ideas, but several members of the business community voiced their objections to the proposal at council. The common concerns were privacy and the challenge of recording a large number of transactions to meet the criteria of the amended ordinance.

John Blabaum, the owner of Wax Xtatic, a record store on 18 W. Main Street, said he “freaked out” when he heard what the department was considering.

“So many things in this ordinance would put such a burden on me, as a businessman, I will not be open,” he said. “I will close unless many things are changed.”

Blabaum said he would need to hire an additional employee to record all of the transactions. Other owners echoed this statement.

Doug Gervich of M. Gervich and Sons, a bulk commodity dealer which buys and sells scrap, objected to sharing information with a third-party data company in particular.

“Uploading all of this data to the cloud, to me, is much like a search warrant waiting for a crime to be committed,” he said. “That’s my most confidential info. I can’t have that on the cloud. especially with a for-profit organization.”

Gervich explained having information about who he deals with and his pricing would give competitors an unfair advantage. Also, he has confidentiality agreements with many of his suppliers.

“What the police are trying to do is very noble,” said John Hall, President and CEO of the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce. “I think there’s an opportunity to reverse the way this burdens business owners. How do we work on bridging that communication and better elevate opportunities to reclaim stolen property without putting an undue burden on our business community?”

Councilor Jeff Schnieder suggested changing course and making a publicly accessible website where stolen items could be listed. He also echoed concerns about data privacy. Councilman Mike Ladehoff directed the department to make changes to their amendment, incorporating the concerns of the business community. Tupper agreed and proposed coming back to this in another discussion item at the Aug. 8 council meeting.


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