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Changes may be in store for local pawn shops

SALEM - Proposed changes to the town's laws regulating how pawn shops conduct business would require store owners to participate in an online program geared toward tracking all pawn shop business transactions.

Salem Municipal Code 251, which regulates secondhand shops and pawn brokers in town, currently requires such businesses to hold onto items for 30 days before placing them up for sale.

As it stands, Salem pawnshops are required to submit each and every pawn slip to local police, regardless of the item's monetary value. Local law enforcement officials, in turn, spend many hours monitoring the paper slips, a tedious task, police said, considering the town has 22 pawnshops combining for approximately 43,000 transactions each year.

Eighty-five percent of items that pass through local pawnshops come from non-Salem residents, police said.

During Thursday night's selectmen's meeting, Deputy Police Chief Shawn Patten said the issue of stolen goods trafficking isn't going away anytime soon.

"We've seen a 30 percent increase in secondhand dealers taking in stolen merchandise, whether they know it or not," Patten said. "It's a direct link to burglaries and the growing drug problems."

Programs like Leeds Online and Business Watch International can track business transactions quickly and electronically, but costs around $5,000 annually. Businesses would be encouraged, but not forced, to help foot the bill.

"It's hooked into law enforcement networks, and it's all compatible," Patten said, noting that the electronic monitoring services have proven successful in other towns with high numbers of pawn businesses, including Manchester.

Businesses would have until March 2013 to comply should the item pass, he added.

"That would give the vendors in town a couple months to get on the system," Patten said.

Also in the works are potential changes to licensing those businesses selling secondhand wares.

Currently, the police department charges shops $1,000 per year for business licenses. Patten asked board members if they would consider increasing that fee based on individual shops' rates of sales, noting it's costly for the police department to regulate such businesses, as the services of detectives and police officers are often needed.

Selectman Stephen Campbell said he favored using the electronic services, as they would free up the town's staff members at times, though he balked at charging business owners an additional $200 for license fees.

"We're imposing something for a very good reason on these businesses," Campbell said. "But I think at this point, we're pushing the envelope here. We like to encourage economic development in town."

Despite Campbell's thoughts, his four fellow board members disagreed. The board voted, 4-1, in favor of increasing annual license fees to $1,200, with Campbell opposed.

Board members unanimously agreed they'd like to extend the ordinance to include metal recycling businesses due to the high level of metal thefts.

Discussion on the new ordinance will continue in the coming month, with Patten to draft a final document for further board debate.

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April Guilmet may be reached at

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