GREENFIELD — At a meeting of local detectives last spring, one investigator told his colleagues he was on the lookout for a collection of firearms that had been stolen during a burglary.
By a stroke of luck, another detective – one who knew nothing of the criminal case – had a helpful lead.
Lt. Randy Ratliff of the Greenfield Police Department had recently gone through a local pawn shop’s records by hand and remembered seeing weapons that fit the description.
That was a lucky coincidence, one that reunited a burglary victim with his possessions.
But police say those kinds of connections could happen more frequently with the use of a program called LeadsOnline.
LeadsOnline is a Web-based program that allows store owners who buy or pawn property to log their data, including serial numbers and other identifying information, into a searchable database.
Should police be looking for a stolen item, the information is just a few clicks away. And, in cases when a driver’s license was provided at the time an item was sold or pawned, a lead on a suspect is also at investigators’ fingertips.
Ratliff is now leading the charge to propose an ordinance to the Greenfield City Council that would require local business owners to use LeadsOnline.
There are a handful of pawn shops and gold-buyers in town, though it’s still up for debate whether the ordinance would include antique shops that buy property as well.
The service is free for business owners; it is police who subscribe to use the program.
Requiring businesses to utilize LeadsOnline would change the way local law enforcement investigates stolen property, Ratliff said.
In short, the tedious task of going through records by hand would become a thing of the past, and suspects could be identified much more quickly.
“Generally, if we get the stuff back, there’s an 80 percent possibility we’re going to make an arrest,” Ratliff said. “You’ve got the name of the person who sold the item, pawned the item, and if they aren’t the person who did the theft, they’re more than willing to tell you (who did). It gives us a starting point.”
Art Jensen, owner of Jensen’s Pawn Co. in the 700 block of South State Street, is being held up as an example of someone who’s doing it right, police say. Jensen is the only shop owner in town already using LeadsOnline, Ratliff said.
Jensen, who also owns a shop in Shelbyville, said he’s been using LeadsOnline for several years and figured it was inevitable that use of the program would be required for all such shops.
LeadsOnline not only serves as a link between property owners and the items they’ve lost, but it saves business owners time because they no longer have to pull records for investigators, Jensen said.
“It’s a good tool for (law enforcement) to look things up that way,” he said.
The process is quick and easy, said Jensen’s daughter, Jackie Jensen, who is in charge of logging the information each week.
She estimates each entry takes only a few minutes.
“Nothing to it, really,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea to do. I don’t mind putting in an hour or so to type it in.”
Using LeadsOnline protects business owners from unknowingly dealing in stolen property, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester pointed out.
No one is suggesting all items brought into a pawn or second-hand shop are stolen, Jester added, but it’s undeniable thieves often use them to get rid of stolen goods.
“It’s easy. It’s instant cash, and if I didn’t buy it, I don’t care what I sell it for,” Jester said. “I don’t think a pawn shop owner would knowingly accept stolen property, but I think if a citizen comes in and says, “I want to sell my gold jewelry,’ does the pawn owner really have a responsibility to say, ‘Hey where’d you steal this from?’”
If an item comes up as stolen, it is recovered by police, and the business loses the proceeds, but that’s just the risk of the business, Jensen said.
It’s also why smart business owners take a long, hard look at those who come into the shop looking to sell or pawn something, he said. If someone comes in with a tool he doesn’t know how to use, there’s a good chance it doesn’t belong to him, Jensen cited by way of example.
And in many cases, if an item turns out to be stolen and an arrest is made, the suspect is ordered to pay restitution to the shop, Jensen said.
John Patton, president of the Greenfield City Council, has been working with law enforcement to learn about the benefits of the program and said he hopes the ordinance will be readily approved by the council.
“It just seems like it makes all kinds of sense in the world to pass a reasonably sensible ordinance,” Patton said. “I don’t see any reason at all to waste any time on it.”
Patton said he hopes to have Ratliff speak to the council at the next meeting Feb. 27. He also encourages members of the public who have any concerns to attend.