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Medford council wants more legal safeguards at pawn shops

More crooks could be nabbed for selling stolen jewelry at pawn shops if the Medford City Council adopts a series of changes designed to makes it more difficult to fence the goods.

Medford police Chief Tim George said the increase in gold prices has attracted drug addicts who need a quick money fix to support their $100-a-day heroin habit.

"They've got to have money, and they've got to have it now," he said.

The council agreed to give city staff time to draft an ordinance that would give police more tools to use with pawn shops.

Shops that buy jewelry and gold are required to keep the goods for five days, after which it is often melted. Police say they need at least 15 days because the investigation process can take longer than five.

Other cities in Oregon require items to be held from seven to 30 days.

"Currently, we in Medford have the lowest rate in the state," Sgt. Brent Mak said.

Police had planned to ask for 30 days but settled for 15 days as a compromise with pawn shop owners, Mak said.

Medford police have been able to retrieve stolen jewelry from Washington state, which has 30-day waiting period, after local thieves tried to fence goods across the border, Mak said. By the time local officers tracked the thieves to Washington, the wait time was almost up, but the stolen goods were retrieved, he said.

Police would like pawn shops to take photos of each piece of jewelry purchased to help with identification, Mak said. Police also requested a change in the reporting time for pawn shops, which are required to report the same business day. Under the proposed ordinance change, the shops would have 24 hours to report.

In 2013, police had 85 cases of stolen property being sold at local pawn shops or secondhand dealers.

Some council members suggested taking photos of customers who sell jewelry, though most pawn shops have camera equipment installed.

"Turn the camera on them," Councilor Chris Corcoran said. He suggested that sticking a camera in a crook's face would send the person scurrying from the store.

Zach Kohler, owner of the Southern Oregon Gold Exchange, said his company already makes a photocopy of driver's licenses and has video cameras. However, he said, he wouldn't be opposed to taking a photo of someone selling jewelry.

Kohler said the 15-day wait period could prove troublesome for local shops and customers because gold prices can fluctuate wildly. Local shops would have to offer customers 10 to 15 percent less for jewelry to cover potential losses, he said.

"That would really hurt the community," he said.

Kohler said most shops are on the lookout for suspicious individuals selling jewelry.

"No one wants to buy stolen goods in this community," he said.

If a piece of jewelry is determined to have been stolen, police confiscate it and the pawn shop loses the money it paid to the crook, Kohler said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.