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Adjusting for unintended consequences

Owners of second-hand stores were caught by surprise by a new city ordinance requiring them to photograph everything they buy and submit it to police to help catch thieves and burglars trying to profit from their crimes. It was an unintended consequence of the new law, which was aimed mainly at pawn shops.

It appears the City Council is willing to amend the ordinance, and it should do so quickly, before the new law takes effect next month.

Pawn shops have long been places where thieves try to cash in their ill-gotten items. Pawn shop owners generally cooperate with police, but they, too, chafe under some of the documentation requirements.

Second-hand stores, however, deal in many lower-cost items. One store owner says she may take in up to 10,000 separate items in a month, but her average sale price is only $1.12. Clearly, photographing all those items and then holding them for 15 days before they can be resold would be an unreasonable burden, and in the vast majority of cases wouldn't provide police with usable leads.

On the other hand, police have a point when they note drug addicts will shoplift new clothing from retail stores and then sell it to second-hand stores for cash rather than return the items for store credit. So second-hand stores have a role to play in helping catch criminals, just not as active a role as a pawn shop.

It should be a fairly simple matter to adjust the ordinance to apply only to items of higher value, not to used clothing that may sell for a dollar or two. Based on comments from a council member and police Chief Tim George, it appears they are more than willing to work with the stores to make sure the law is reasonable. Better late than never.