Harford County lawmakers want to crack down on pawn shops to battle the heroin epidemic

Idea is to cut off money supply used to buy drugs
Posted at 6:20 PM, Apr 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-06 18:20:22-04

Distressing numbers in Harford County. From 2015 to 2016 there was a 21 percent surge in thefts, in the same time period the number of heroin related deaths doubled. Officials say crooks are stealing from people and swiping stuff from cars to feed their drug addiction.

"We do believe that there's a direct tie," said Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler.

He and other local leaders announced a new tool to fight the opioid epidemic gripping the region; making pawn shop legislation stronger. They say better surveillance and record keeping can help track stolen goods being sold for drug money.

"I think it will limit their resources, where they'll be able to get their money from in order to go out and support their addiction because right now retail theft is running rampant pretty much, it's a very easy target for them and so I think that will help cut off one of their avenues," Detective Corporal Justin Blubaugh with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office said.

The section of County code that deals with pawn shops hasn't been significantly revamped since the 60's.  Legislation introduced this week rewrites the laws pawn brokers need to follow to do business.

The proposed law would ban pawn shops from buying gift cards from people, requires workers to photograph and note when items that look brand new are brought in, as well as document any serial numbers that look tampered with. The bill calls for surveillance cameras at any entrances to the business and above the registers, with that footage being kept for 150 days. And it has teeth for people who don't follow the rules.

"For any violation of these infractions is a 90-day or $1,000 fine or both," said Gahler.

RELATED: 5 people indicted in pawn shop theft scheme

Over at Clark Loan & Jewelry in Aberdeen workers say the changes won't impact them much, because they're already doing most of them.

"We already take pictures of items, we document everything, when it comes to even jewelry we have to describe how many stones are in it, what the size of the stones, if there's any engravings,” Clark Loan & Jewelry Assistant Manager Nick Uroda said.  "If we get any sense that the item doesn't belong to the customer we're not taking it in, I’m not taking that chance on losing money."

Uroda says upgrading their security system to comply with holding onto surveillance video for nearly 5-months would cost them a couple thousand bucks.  But besides that, they support plans to overhaul the county pawn code.

"It's gonna push the people that are not doing business the correct way out," said Uroda.

"I think it's important to do all we can to protect our local businesses, but if this also takes any money off the streets that goes to heroin, then I think it's a win-win," Harford County Councilman Patrick Vincenti said.

A public hearing on Council Bill 17-006 is set for May 2.