More Omaha residents who’ve had their jewelry, sporting goods, electronics, lawn equipment and bicycles stolen are getting those items back.
The Omaha Police Department says it has returned more than $1.2 million in stolen goods in the three-plus years since the city first required pawnshops and salvage yards to log fingerprints, photos and IDs from people selling used items.
The measure’s City Council sponsor, Pete Festersen, says those results should make the council’s Nov. 5 vote a no-brainer on renewing a roughly $56,500-a-year deal for the software that police use to access the data.
The council held a public hearing Tuesday on extending the database contract for five years with Texas-based LeadsOnline. The new deal, if approved, would run through 2024.
Police say they want the extension because the database lets them efficiently check images and information on items sold to pawnshops and secondhand shops against police reports filed. Investigators then follow up on leads.
Police say that through the end of September, the system helped officers identify and return 1,305 stolen items. The average value of each of those stolen items: $923, though individual values varied widely.
Each year, the total number of items recovered has bounced around, from a high of 420 in 2016 to 293 in 2017 and 358 in 2018. Through September of this year, police had returned about 224 stolen items worth $136,497.
Festersen’s green, 21-speed Trek bicycle was stolen from his open garage Sept. 24 after a morning ride. Its value: $500.
Festersen said he’s already gotten one call from police about a similar bike found. It wasn’t his.
But he remains hopeful the bike might be found. He said he’s pleased that officers are hearing from people happy to have some items returned.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer told The World-Herald on Tuesday that the property crime ordinance helps his officers monitor more local sales of stolen goods more often than was possible previously.
“The property crime ordinance has allowed the OPD to narrow our investigative searches in the high volume of recovered property, so we can match the property to the correct victim,” he said.
Omaha Police Sgt. Tina Jennum, who leads the department’s pawn, salvage and secondhand unit, said the photos of items and suspects that LeadsOnline collects lets more officers search for missing items more quickly.
Having pictures is much better than the old system of making clerks fill out pawnshop cards, she said, because descriptions of items and suspects vary so much. Also, people don’t always have items’ serial numbers.
“It really helps us find items with distinct characteristics,” she said.
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Jennum said the system is often helpful enough for an officer to take a report one day and check the next day for similar stolen items sold at local stores. It also allows police to compare the seller’s photo to descriptions of suspects.
That’s why she said she wants more people to report stolen items by phone at 402-444-4877. Police can’t check what they don’t know has been stolen, she said. People can even log their serial numbers using LeadsOnline.
Even people running the pawnshops that work with the system say they appreciate having the tool. John Dineen, general manager for Sol’s Jewelry and Loan, said his industry isn’t interested in selling stolen goods.
“Criminals aren’t stupid,” Dineen said. “They know we work with the Police Department very closely. We want to be sure they don’t go somewhere else.”
This year is the first since the council extended the pawnshop sales ordinance to cover cash sales of items to secondhand stores, despite concerns from retailers about the additional record-keeping and losses to online sales.
One big difference between the two types of stores: Pawnshops will lend people money on items and charge interest; secondhand shops will not.
Since January, police have identified about $66,000 in property sold to secondhand stores that was stolen, Jennum said. Much of it still needs to be returned. That’s about a third of what police have identified this year.
Police and Festersen said there is a value to public safety in knowing that it’s harder to get rid of stolen items in Omaha. Festersen said it might deter some criminals from burglarizing homes and businesses.
The city’s 1,240 burglary reports through September are down about 8% from 2018 totals, based on the city’s crime statistics.
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