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STOW -- The city wants to update its regulations regarding secondhand merchandise dealers that could make it easier to solve crimes, such as burglaries.
Legislation to do that was given first reading at City Council's April 27 meeting, but Council agreed to hold it there on May 11 after Law Director Amber Zibritosky said the law department was working on some suggested amendments in response to concerns by some secondhand dealers.
One such vendor, Beverly Martin, owner of Pak Computers on Graham Road requested on May 11 that Council table the legislation and asked that Council members visit her business.
"I'd like to prove to you my ability as an owner and the uprightness of my business," said Martin.
Martin did not elaborate on her concerns and Zibritosky did not specify what amendments might be proposed. Martin and Zibritosky did not return phone calls seeking additional comment before press time.
Zibritosky did refer to amendments earlier this month to the Stow Sentry.
"We just want to make sure that we have a nice balance between ... good provisions that are good for us and our detection of crime and prevention of crime but are not overly restrictive, obviously, on businesses," she said.
The proposed ordinance would replace one that has been on the city books for nearly 40 years and is now considered not only outdated, but inadequate.
"The old ordinance," Zibritosky said during Council's April 27 roads and safety committee meeting, "hasn't been enforced since God knows when. Very out of date. Certain parts of it I would even dare to say are unenforceable and possibly unconstitutional. We really would like to bring it up to date."
She said they modeled the proposed ordinance on Akron's secondhand dealer ordinance, with the Stow law department talking to its counterpart in Akron about issues that have arisen.
"We were able to, essentially by talking to them, improve upon it," said Zibritosky.
Police Chief Jeff Film, also during the April 27 committee meeting, said the revised ordinance would be useful in solving crimes because Stow police have used the database to solve several burglaries after stolen merchandise was sold in Akron.
"What it allows the detectives to do is to have an eye out for stolen property," he said.
Film said few businesses in Stow would actually be impacted by the proposed ordinance.
"I don't think it would be a dozen," he said.
Proposed ordinance more elaborate
The current and proposed ordinances both have two components, licensing requirements for secondhand dealers of merchandise and reporting requirements for merchandise that such businesses provide to help the police identify any items that may have been reported stolen, but the proposed ordinance is more detailed.
Zibritosky said requiring licenses for secondhand dealers is a "hook" for getting them to report purchases and that solving crimes is not the only reason for the regulations. Protecting Stow's reputation in the future is also a factor.
"We don't want our city to be the one all the criminals go to because we're not as up-to-date," she said. "We want to make sure we're ahead of the curve and that we have all those things in place."
The current ordinance requires that secondhand dealers of certain merchandise, including jewelry, precious stones and metals, specifically, gold, metal and platinum, apply for a license to operate in the city. Granting of such licenses are subject to a "standard police background investigation." Businesses must then renew those licenses at the end of each year.
The proposed ordinances expand on the covered items to also include certain antique items, athletic and fitness equipment, furniture and appliances, retail gift cards, automotive parts, and a wide variety of electronics.
Under the current ordinance, dealers are required to file reports on paper forms with the police department anytime they purchase the included merchandise from someone, including the seller's name, age address and Social Security number and a description of the item for police to possibly match against items reported stolen.
The proposed ordinance similarly requires the reporting of items purchased and who the sellers are, but to a law enforcement database called LeadsOnline and specifies that dealers can only purchase items from sellers who show them a valid driver's license or state identification card. Film said that a few dealers in Stow already record information about sales to LeadsOnline without being required to. He said the database is used by more than 260 police departments in the state and more than 3,000 nationwide. Besides Stow, Film said other Summit County police departments that use it include Akron, Barberton, Copley, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Springfield Township, Tallmadge and New Franklin. Of those communities, said Film, Akron and Barberton require secondhand dealers to use the database to report purchases and Cuyahoga Falls is working on legislation to do so.
"There is no cost to the business," he said. "It's free to the business. There is a subscriber fee for the police department."
Zibritosky said the expansion in covered items reflects a reality that there are a wide variety of items stolen, not just jewelry and metals, in burglaries.
"Things that didn't exist back in 1979 or at least were not being sold or pawned as they are now," she said. "So we kind of broadened it to make it fit what we're actually seeing and the crimes we're actually trying to solve nowadays."
The proposed ordinance increases a license application fee from $10 to $50, but requires renewals only at the end of odd-numbered years and unlike the current ordinance, does not include a requirement that dealers pay a $1,000 bond to the city. It also increases the time period during which a dealer cannot sell or alter an item from 10 to 14 days after the purchase.
The proposed ordinance requires police background checks and adds a specification that a license will not be issued if anyone at the business has been convicted of a felony or crime involving fraud, theft, or receiving or possessing stolen property in the past five years.
Both ordinances include provisions for revocation and suspension of licenses if the ordinances are violated or false information is provided, with the proposed ordinance also including an appeal process.
The current ordinance makes its violation a first-degree misdemeanor while the proposed ordinance makes a first offense a third-degree misdemeanor and subsequent offenses first-degree misdemeanors.
The proposed ordinance also includes exceptions, including for businesses that deal exclusively in certain secondhand items, such as furniture, automobiles, and clothing, except furs and leather; purchases involving no more than five CDs or video games where store credit is given in exchange; "infrequent sales" such as garage sales; sales by religious or charitable organizations; and cell phone returns and exchanges under provider service contracts or subscriptions.
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