City mulls tighter pawn­shop rules

Cash-for-gold out­lets could see lim­its mak­ing it hard to un­load stolen goods

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

The city will look at tight­en­ing by­laws gov­ern­ing pawn­shops and the fast-grow­ing cash-for-gold in­dus­try to try to make it harder to un­load stolen jew­elry. Coun­cil en­dorsed a mo­tion from Moun­tain coun­cil­lor Tom Jack­son to “strengthen reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments” for the city’s 112 li­censed pawn­bro­kers and cash-for-gold out­lets. It also calls on the prov­ince to up­date “out­dated” leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with pawn­bro­kers.

“This is not a knock on the many long-stand­ing, hon­est, rep­utable busi­nesses op­er­at­ing in our com­mu­nity,” said Jack­son in an in­ter­view. “This is a way to pro­tect prop­erty own­ers from suf­fer­ing losses as a re­sult of deal­ing with the more seed­ier op­er­a­tors that also do ex­ist.”

Jack­son said he was in­spired to ask for changes in part based on the urg­ing of con­stituent Jodi For­mosi. The Ward 6 res­i­dent started re­search­ing the city’s cash-for-gold op­er­a­tors af­ter los­ing around $50,000 in jew­elry and fam­ily heir­looms to a breakand-en­ter four years ago.

“I thought, naively, that I could try to find my jew­elry, that these busi­nesses would help me re­trieve these val­ued mem­o­ries,” she said. For­mosi said some of the bet­ter-known pawn­bro­kers in the city did in­deed of­fer ad­vice and go through records look­ing for the jew­elry she de­scribed.

But she also re­called vis­it­ing shops that only ad­ver­tised via scrawled, hand­writ­ten signs that said “we’ll buy your gold.”

She said in many cases, those op­er­a­tors didn’t ap­pear to ask any ques­tions about of­fered met­als or even record trans­ac­tions. “They’re just pock­et­ing this stuff and hand­ing over pen­nies on the dol­lar,” she said. “In my opin­ion, peo­ple are be­ing ex­ploited … This kind of setup ba­si­cally en­cour­ages peo­ple to go out and com­mit rob­bery.”

Li­cens­ing di­rec­tor Ken Leen­dertse said the city is al­ready in the midst of a ma­jor by­law over­haul that will in­clude the sched­ules for pawn­bro­kers.

He said the num­ber of li­censed cash­for-gold op­er­a­tions in Hamil­ton has jumped in re­cent years — and more un­li­censed ver­sions pop up when­ever the price of the pre­cious metal spikes.

“We think there is more we can do, par­tic­u­larly in im­prov­ing ac­count­abil­ity and track­ing of what is bought and sold,” he said.

For ex­am­ple, Leen­dertse said the up­dated by­law will try to stan­dard­ize the de­tails op­er­a­tors must record about pur­chased jew­elry.

Ideally, op­er­a­tors will even­tu­ally be re­quired to pro­vide that data to po­lice or mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­i­ties in elec­tronic form to al­low for “rapid cross-ref­er­enc­ing” against the de­tails of re­ported thefts.

He ex­pects the up­dated by­law to also stop “fly-by-night” op­er­a­tors from com­ing to town for an event, buy­ing gold, and then leav­ing days later.

“The changes will mean you can’t re­move that pur­chased prop­erty from the city for 30 days,” he said.

By­law staff will re­port back to the plan­ning com­mit­tee with a list of planned and pos­si­ble changes.

Hamil­ton po­lice will also be re­quested to weigh in on po­ten­tial im­prove­ments.

This kind of setup ba­si­cally en­cour­ages peo­ple to go out and com­mit rob­bery. JODI FOR­MOSI

Coun. Tom Jack­son ini­ti­ated a mo­tion to stiffen by­laws gov­ern­ing the city’s pawn­bro­kers.

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