by Chari Sutherland
It was standing-room only at the April 6 commission meeting. Many small business owners were in attendance to protest a proposed amendment to an ordinance governing pawnbrokers.
The amendment, proposed by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department (ACCPD), will require all pawnbrokers to begin using an electronic ticketing system, to hold items an additional 20 days before allowing them to be sold and to require customers to show picture identification before pawning items.
During public comments, Lori Reeves, of the Athens Pawn Shop, asked that the commission vote no on the amendment. “This (amendment) will bring dramatic changes for the livelihood of at least a dozen small businesses,” she said. She said the current ordinance is sufficient. “Most of the stolen property is sold on the streets by criminals, not in pawnshops.” Perry Reeves said many of their customers repeatedly pawn the same items just to get some extra money, then return to pick up the items.
Though his business has required that customers show identification for forty-two years, Reeves was concerned about customers losing more confidentiality.
The amendment was suggested in writing by Chief of Police, Joseph Lumpkin, on February 4. In his detailed report to the commissioners, he requested that pawnbrokers “electronically report their transactions on a daily basis rather than by weekly paper document.” The report also said Georgia law authorizes the police department to request such a change. Lumpkin also wrote in the report that there has been an increase in burglaries in the last three years, with small electronics being the most common items stolen.
ACCPD will be able to track items received in pawnshops from their headquarters through an internet database, rather than sending a detective out to collect copies of pawn tickets and manually looking through all of them. In November, there were 1,549 paper pawn tickets, according to Lumpkin’s report.
On the opposite side of the issue, many pawnbrokers complained at the commission meeting that new regulations will make their work more tedious. Thornton said being required to take a picture and write a detailed description of each piece of jewelry will require more time. He said that official should consider that many of the dealers take in only certain types of jewelry, so there will often be over 100 individual and identical pieces of jewelry. “A lot of things not adequately thought out,” he said.
“I’m not thrilled about having to spend one to two more hours a day meeting new guidelines,” said Dale Duncan of Duncan’s Fine Jewelry on Atlanta Highway. He said some dealers may have to spend about 30 minutes more on an item just to enter it into the system.
“This will cause people who do a large portion of buying to probably do illegal things,” he said. “They may be a day or two late entering their information or not enter it at all.” To comply may require longer days or adding more labor, which will raise the dealer’s costs.
All pawnbrokers were concerned about financing the new system. Joe Thornton of Thornton’s Pawn Center on Lexington Avenue said the pawnbrokers weren’t given enough time to look over the proposed changes to the ordinance. “You’re putting a financial burden on store owners,” he told the commission. “The proposal doesn’t specify equipment we’d have to use. We need more understanding of what’s being required.”
Lori Reeves said the extra $25 registration fee required each year and a $25 precious metal license for dealers that sell precious metals is “over and above what we already pay in (business license) fees.”
Though the commission did not specifically address the concerns about the extra fees or having to implement equipment/services (computer, digital camera and internet service) that some dealers may not already have, it was pointed out that ACCPD will purchase the software system for $11,000 through the police department’s general fund budget.
Commissioner Kelly Girtz said Chief Lumpkin’s request for the amendment “is judious”. “I think this is going to bring us in line with the state and allow us to communicate with other jurisdictions as well.”
Girtz motioned to approve the amendment. It was seconded and all commissioners voted in favor.
With the passing of this ordinance amendment, ACCPD joins police departments of Alpharetta, Cartersville, Cobb County and Gwinnett County in requiring an electronic recording system. Chief Lumpkin’s report said, “These agencies report that electronic pawn reporting has improved efficiency and enabled the agencies to recover stolen property while identifying burglary suspects on a regular basis.”
Now approximately a month until the May 24 deadline of full implementation, Thornton’s Pawn Center isn’t yet prepared for the change. “I haven’t started implementing any of it and I won’t until May first,” Joe Thornton said.
Today at Athens Pawn, owner Perry Reeves isn’t close to being ready. Since he’s still using handwritten tickets, he doesn’t own a computer or have internet access. Dale Duncan at Duncan’s Fine Jewelry said he’s logged onto the site and registered to use it.