BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Every 24 minutes, a car or house is broken into in Erie County, according to the latest statistics.
Stolen electronics, antiques, jewelry must be turned into cash by thieves, and it has to be quick. Sometimes, they turn to pawn shops and second-hand stores, who unknowingly move stolen merchandise or melt down for re-sale what could be evidence in a crime.
There are more than 115 second-hand stores in Erie County, and there are only two people outside the city of Buffalo dedicated to policing local pawn shops.
But thanks to technology and a new law, two people are really all they need.
Chief Alan Rozansky and Investigator Lou Roberts are regulars at area pawn shops and second-hand stores.
Together, they make up the county’s entire pawn squad, established last year to track stolen jewelry and other wares that are sold by people looking to make a quick buck — no questions asked.
Except now, the law requires plenty of questions. And additional requirements for shop owners.
“The law made it so that these individual businesses had to report to us within two days items that were bought from citizens,” Rozansky said.
Andrew Moquin, president of Andrew’s Jewelers on Transit Road, is just fine with that.
“I personally think the law’s 20 years overdue,” he said.
He’s been in the business of buying and selling jewelry for more than 20 years, and has worked to ensure his cases were stocked with legitimate jewelry.
“There’s always going to be that element in the industry, in the second-hand industry that you can’t filter out,” Moquin said. “They’re going to find their way in your business whether you try to filter them out or not.
“This law only makes it safer for me to do business,” he added. “Not only does it make the community safer, but it makes my employees safer. It makes it safer for me to do business.”
Shop owners are now required to ask for and take pictures of photo IDs, the item being sold and offer a description, then enter it into a massive database, called LEADS Online.
At this point, that level of participation is voluntary.
“Would you participate in this so that I didn’t have to come in with a badge and a gun on and disturb their businesses,” Rozansky said. “I could see by them entering the items, along with a photograph of the item and the name of the person selling the item into the system that we would mutually utilize.”
At the minimum, shop owners are required to track and identify their items, and hold them for at least 14 days, giving law enforcement a chance to catch up in the wake of a burglary or larceny.
The law was adopted by the Erie County Legislature last year, as an extension in the fight against the opiate epidemic.
“The drug use being up leads to burglaries and other larcenies,” Rozansky said. “Drug addicts need the money and ultimately, this was interrelated.”
“Once we start choking off that supply line of stolen property, it will hopefully curtail some of these burglaries and larcenies once they realize they can’t sell any of this stuff that they’re taking,” Roberto said. “If you have no place to take this stuff, it means nothing to you and you can buy your dope or whatever you need.”
Shop owner Mark “Marcus” Borgenicht, owner of the longtime Marcus Jewelers on Niagara Falls Boulevard, doesn’t see the benefit.
“In my opinion, it’s an invasion of the Fourth Amendment, but I guess my opinion doesn’t matter,” Borgenicht said. “Since the law was enacted, I’ve sent the sheriff hundreds of photographs and licenses without one theft involvement.”
“Businesses are entitled to do business without government intrusion,” he added. “People are entitled to sell without government intrusion. Everybody’s being spied on. People want their privacy and they keep losing it.”
Marcus wouldn’t allow our cameras to film his merchandise, but he said the law is negatively affecting his business.
“I want to help the police control crime,” Borgenicht said. “But I don’t want to give up my rights doing it.”
“The retail business is all about kissing butt,” he added. “And when I start treating customers like criminals, that’s the end of the jewelry business. Retail doesn’t work that way.”
Moquin says that’s a big part of the problem.
“I honestly think that’s absurd. It definitely gives the industry sort of a tarnished image,” Moquin said. “Because I believe that any second-hand jeweler that speaks out publicly against this law, their motives have to be questioned.”
For guys like Rozansky and Roberts, it’s not about shaking down local businesses.
It’s about covering a lot of ground in limited time, keeping an industry honest, and catching the bad guys.
“It’s another tool for law enforcement to make sure victims are best served,” Rozansky said. “As time goes on and we get up and we do more compliance, there’s going to be more arrests, and we’re hoping that it continues to be successful.”
The sheriff’s office provided us with the number of burglaries and larcenies outside the city of Buffalo for the past five years.
And while those numbers are going down for the sheriff’s office, Rozansky said he expects them to fall even further, as they continue to work with area pawn shops and second-hand stores, and more of those businesses sign up with the LEADS online system.