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Secondhand dealers protest one-choice deal.

Byline: Jack Moran The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Unlike their counterparts in Eugene, city officials here have called time-out on a plan to hire a Canadian company to oversee a computerized transaction-reporting system for local pawn shops.

Several Springfield and Glenwood secondhand dealers have bombarded City Hall with letters urging postponement of a decision to follow Eugene's example and hire Business Watch International for the proposed reporting program. So far, they've been successful.

Police pushing the program say an automated system would give them better access to stores' transaction records and potentially make it easier to identify people selling stolen goods to the shops.

Protesting pawn dealers object to the price they would have to pay to maintain the BWI system. They also worry that customers' identification could be misused or lost after it's sent electronically to the Saskatch- ewan-based firm.

"We're not opposed to automated reporting, but I'm not going to put my customers at risk with this Canadian deal," said Lance Barkley, owner of the Your Place secondhand store on Franklin Boulevard in Glenwood.

"We know we're going to get a system," he said. "We just want to make sure it's the right one."

Barkley claims it would cost his business more than $14,000 a year if BWI managed the program.

In response to the letters from Barkley and other shop owners, Springfield officials have agreed to delay hiring BWI while exploring other options for automated reporting.

In Eugene, meanwhile, police are finalizing details of a 5-year contract with BWI, Eugene detective Randy Berger said.

Police say secondhand dealers will pay $200 to $700 apiece annually to fund the program. The cost is based on the number of transactions made at a store. The total expenses cited by Barkley include costs for new Internet and phone lines, technical help and employees.

Under the traditional paper-based records system in both cities, second-hand stores fill out paper slips that officers then collect and review.

The main advantage of a linked electronic database for both cities is that it would help police block thieves from stealing an item in one jurisdiction and selling it in the neighboring city.

According to BWI's Web site, less than 1 percent of pawned merchandise has been stolen.

Another benefit of automated reporting is that it frees up officers to investigate more crime, since they do not have to spend time reviewing the slips filled out by shop owners when transactions are made.

A handful of shops in Eugene, Springfield and unincorporated parts of the county have participated in a voluntary trial program with BWI in the past three years.

Police have not released data relating to the success of the temporary program, which was free to police and businesses.

"It has been a regional project," said Jean Stronach, data and records manager for the Eugene Police Department. Earlier this year, the Eugene council decided to go with a mandatory electronic database program for pawnshops in the city limits.

Springfield's council, on the other hand, has not formally considered a program after becoming well aware in recent months of some shop owners' concerns. Lane County commissioners are waiting to see what happens in Springfield before mandating an electronic database system in the county's jurisdiction.

Leading the anti-BWI charge are Barkley and Buck Biggs, owners of Best Cash on Main Street in Springfield.

They have written letters to councilors opposing a partnership with BWI, since the topic was introduced to officials during a meeting in April. Other shop owners in Springfield and Glenwood also have protested hiring the company.

Critics of BWI note that several other firms manage similar electronic programs.

BWI is one of four firms now being considered for a regional effort by the Portland Police Bureau. Barkley and Biggs have asked Springfield officials to wait and see how that plan progresses.

"We're looking at other alternatives that have been suggested by the dealers," Spring- field Police Chief Jerry Smith said. "When we go to council with this, we need to have all the answers for them."

During the April meeting where the issue was first discussed by the Springfield council, Mayor Sid Leiken said a statewide reporting system would be best.

Star Wood, owner of 4-Star Traders on Willamette Street in Eugene, said Eugene and Springfield should work with the same system so pawn data can be easily cross-checked by police in both cities.

"It does need to be a collaborative thing," Wood said.

Wood believes that BWI is the right company to pick. After three years of involvement with the trial program, Wood said she has no concerns about the Canadian firm losing or misusing data.

Wood also said she won't mind paying for the automated system because it could help shop owners and police identify stolen goods.

Dealers suffer a financial loss when police seize a stolen item after finding out it has been sold to a store.

"In the long run, (electronic reporting) will pay for itself," Wood said. "The potential for what it can do for recovery of stolen merchandise is phenomenal."

But for now, Barkley and others will continue to fight BWI in Springfield. "We have been relentless," Barkley said. "We want this to be fair to our customers, and we just don't think using this Canadian company is the best use of our money."

BWI does business with about 80 police agencies in the United States, according to the firm's Web site.
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Title Annotation:Government; Springfield pawn shop owners urge the city to explore other options besides a Canadian firm for automated reporting
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 12, 2006
Words:903
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