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Pawn shop ordinance faces opposition

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With or without involvement of the National Rifle Association, the city’s pawnbroker and secondhand store ordinance already appears to be in trouble.

The Pawnbrokers, Jewelers, Valuable Metal Dealers and Secondhand Dealers ordinance has been presented to the city council twice as a discussion item, once in December and once last month.

It is eligible to come up for a vote during the Columbus City Council’s next meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The proposal doesn’t require pawn shops to do anything more than they would normally do when registering merchandise that is taken in, Police Chief Jason Maddix said.

“All this ordinance does is require it to be done efficiently,” Maddix said, through a database rather than on paper.

When police investigate stolen-property cases, the database saves time by allowing officers to type in serial numbers or descriptions and have a computer search for matches, rather than sorting through paperwork at individual businesses.

But the difference between providing the information when asked at the store and being required by ordinance to provide it to a third-party online business is the crux of the business owners’ concern.

Columbus police provided information about LeadsOnline, which offers the online database service, an inventory of pawn and secondhand shop merchandise.

LeadsOnline relies on pawn shops and secondhand shops to provide information about items turned in to the businesses.

Council President Dascal Bunch and council member Frank Miller said they have reservations about the ordinance.

Bunch said people are confused by the wording.

Miller is opposed to requiring businesses to report information to LeadsOnline.

“It’s about rights issues and privacy issues,” he said. “I don’t think we need more government.”

Miller said he didn’t think city government had the right to dictate that a private business must participate.

City police had requested that the pawn shops and secondhand stores voluntarily use the online system, but they have not done so, which led to the ordinance request, police Capt. Jon Rohde said in an earlier interview.

The businesses already are required to provide the information when police request it, but officers say the searchable database would be faster.

The ordinance has been in the works for about two years, Maddix said, adding that it is the next step the department is taking in its fight against property crime.

The businesses aren’t against helping the police, Columbus Pawn Shop owner Scott Brown said. But they are concerned that personal information about their businesses and customers would be given to a third-party business, LeadsOnline, without any control about how that information would be used or shared.

“This company wants to make a lot of money by getting our information for free and selling it to the police department,” Brown said.

Columbus Pawn Shop has been in business for 11 years, and as many as 89,000 items go across the counter there in a year, Brown said.

The shop owner said any time the police department has requested documentation or paperwork on an item, his business has provided it. Last year, there were only two that had an issue with possibly being involved with criminal activity, he said.

Nationwide, 2,800 police departments use the database, including 118 in Indiana. However, only four Indiana cities have ordinances requiring pawn shops and secondhand stores to supply information about their merchandise to the database.

LeadsOnline would charge the city $4,308 annually to use the database. The company provides training and scanning equipment for business owners, but they are not charged for that.

The proposed ordinance includes a fine of $200 to $2,500 a day for businesses that violate it, but police said that could be changed based on the council’s wishes.

Business owners affected by the proposal were using the Internet and word of mouth to encourage residents to attend the city council meeting to protest the ordinance, said Michelle Brown, who co-owns the pawn shop with her husband.

“I don’t see the council making a motion to approve it on first reading,” Bunch said.

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