New Hampshire is known for being one of the safest places to live in the United States. According to a recent study, its crime rate is the fifth lowest in the country.
But that doesn’t mean detectives have an easy time recovering stolen merchandise. In fact, police officials say they could respond to crime faster by tightening regulations among pawnshops and second-hand dealers.
Gary Galbo manages Nashua Coins & Jewelry in downtown Nashua. For collectors, it’s a gem of a store. Under the glass showcases, you might find a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Or, for several thousand more dollars, a shiny diamond vintage brooch. The shop is typically quiet.
But every now and then, a suspicious character walks in, looking for instant cash – most likely, to pay for drugs.
The last thing Galbo wants is to inventory stolen goods.
"We have a policy not to buy from anybody under the age of 24. And that pretty much eliminates most of people we would be worried about. On the other hand, if somebody comes in and has a large quantity of stuff and it’s not obviously a woman who’s decided to raid her jewelry box and get rid of stuff, my antenna would go up and I would probably refuse to buy."
Galbo doesn’t accept merchandise as a collateral for loans like a traditional pawnshop. But Nashua requires any business selling second-hand merchandise to apply for a pawn license. That license requires, Galbo to report details about the seller and the merchandise to the police within 24 hours.
Michael Moushegian is a Lieutenant Detective with the Nashua Police.
"Right now there are 24 businesses in Nashua that have a pawn license. And we receive about 24 different formats of records. "
The police get hard copies of these records by mail. A secretary then scans the documents and sends them to a regional database.
It’s a tedious process that can take hours.
"I’ve got this binder in front of us. November 2011."
Moushegian opens the hefty notebook. "In looking at, there’s probably about a thousand pages in it." A thousand pages. And Moushegian says that was just for the second half of November. Police officials say such an ineffective system makes solving crimes difficult.
They want to require these retailers to instead send digital photos of the merchandise and the seller’s ID to the database.
And they want to extend the period of time second-hand dealers must hold on to items.
Right now, Moushegian says the current law of a 14-day wait period is too short.
"Let’s say someone comes in and sells a gold necklace to a pawn shop. On the 15th day, the pawn shop could melt it down or break it up. That’s just not enough time for the police dept to receive the report, investigate the report, and then identify the property that had been pawned in a particular location. We’re looking to increase the hold period to 30 days.
Gary Galbo.says the proposed regulations are unfair to businesses that buy and sell commodities like gold.
"The 30 days is too long. We pay so close to the melt value. If we hold it for 30 days and the gold goes down, we lose money."
Detective Michael Moushegian says they have the victim in mind, not the business.
Nashua police also want to apply the same rules to scrap metal dealers as they do to second-hand shops.
That’s because copper-related burglaries have jumped almost 400 percent over a one-year period.
Brian Pender, a scrap metal dealer in Nashua, says copper prices have increased.
"The copper thefts have been going on for probably two years. Copper jumped two dollars a pound. They’re grabbing catalytic converters. Someone goes out there and gets 20 to 30 pounds of copper. That doesn’t sound like a lot – except they’re walking out with fifty to a hundred dollars."
Police say any crook with a chain saw or a wire cutter can make a quick buck with copper. Thieves are targeting telephone lines, abandoned buildings, construction sites and foreclosed homes.
Moushegian says other law enforcement departments in the state are watching what happens in Nashua.
For example, Manchester police officials also want to extend the time second-hand dealers have to wait to resell merchandise, from seven to 30 days.
And they’re proposing a new software system that would require dealers to send transaction reports not just to a regional database—but to a national one.
Manchester police officials say they’re still a few months away from getting the official nod from the city.
In Nashua, the city’s Board of Alderman is scheduled to vote on the ordinances next week.