The Omaha City Council narrowly approved an ordinance that supporters say will deter property crime and help return stolen goods to their owners.
Opponents, meanwhile, said the measure would burden small businesses.
The council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to approve the proposal by Councilman Pete Festersen. The ordinance expands on an earlier ordinance he introduced that requires pawnshops and salvage yards to digitally photograph and fingerprint people who sell material to them.
The vote fell along party lines, with Festersen and Council President Ben Gray, Council Vice President Chris Jerram and Councilman Vinny Palermo supporting it. They’re all Democrats on the officially nonpartisan council.
Council members Brinker Harding, Rich Pahls and Aimee Melton, all Republicans, voted against it.
The ordinance now goes to Republican Mayor Jean Stothert, who earlier this month voiced support for it on The World-Herald’s “10 Minutes With the Mayor.”
“I think it’s a tool that will help the police,” she said, noting that it had the support of Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.
Police say they have recovered nearly $700,000 worth of stolen goods in the two or so years since that ordinance took effect.
The new ordinance would require secondhand stores that give cash in exchange for an item to digitally photograph and fingerprint sellers. They’d also have to photograph the items and report the data to a company called LeadsOnline.
The ordinance wouldn’t apply to nonprofits like Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity.
Under an amendment by Festersen, the ordinance also wouldn’t apply to businesses that do trade-ins, such as a jewelry store that allows a person to trade in a piece of jewelry for a better piece.
Festersen said that amendment relieved concerns from representatives at Borsheims and Rockbrook Camera, businesses that have trade-in operations.
Goods that would have to be tracked would include precious metals like gold and silver, jewelry, guns, golf clubs, bikes, musical instruments and electronics. Businesses would have to hold an item for two weeks before selling it.
Harding said some businesses, like those that sell gold coins for cash, could be negatively affected to the point that they can’t do business anymore.
He said markets can change a lot over two weeks — the required holding period — and pointed out that some items don’t have identifying marks or serial numbers, making it hard to return the items to rightful owners.
“I still philosophically am not on board with this,” he said.
Pahls noted that people can still sell stolen goods online and that the ordinance could undercut local brick-and-mortar businesses.
But Jerram said he has perspective on the issue because he’s been a victim of property crime. When his home was burglarized, he said, his wife’s jewelry was taken, along with a camcorder with “every first moment of our daughters’ lives. Every one.” It included video of the first time they said “mama” and first steps, among other memories.
“I definitely see and appreciate the need and can relate to the thousands of property crime victims in the city,” he said.
In other business, the council voted 7-0 to approve preliminary plans to build 28 homes at Pacific Street and 188th Plaza near Shadow Ridge Country Club.
Shadow Ridge owners and real estate developer Jason Lanoha want to build ranch and 1½-story-style homes that would cost about $1 million each. They’d be built on “surplus property” and the course would stay the same, attorney Larry Jobeun said.
Three residents of The Ridges opposed the proposal, saying it wasn’t in the original plans and violates the area’s covenants. They said that the homes would reduce the size of the driving range and that errant drives would cause a safety problem.