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Pawnshop tracking to change in Salem

SALEM - Salem police officials are hoping to begin automatically tracking all purchases made at the town's pawnshops by early March.

During Monday night's selectmen's meeting, Deputy Police Chief Shawn Patten discussed changes under way for town ordinances related to how secondhand dealers and pawnbrokers conduct business.

Patten said there are more than 20 such businesses in Salem right now, which makes it tedious and time-consuming for local police to manually monitor transactions and make sure all of the items being sold arrived there legitimately.

In early November, Salem police initially approached the board seeking an amendment to Salem Municipal Code 251. The ordinance requires pawnshops to put a 30-day hold on items before placing them up for sale. This past fall, town officials agreed it would make sense to raise the annual licensing fee for pawnshops from $1,000 to $1,250, which would allow the town to subscribe to an online tracking program.

Patten said Business Watch International could track all pawn transactions almost instantly, though the program costs around $5,000 annually. Further changes to the ordinance are intended to address earlier concerns that time and resources would be spent monitoring the sales of such low-ticket items as CDs and movies.

Minors wouldn't be permitted to sell items to the pawnshops and those of age would have to show photo identification prior to all transactions. Patten said the sales of items like office furnishings, used clothing and used automobiles wouldn't be subject to electronic monitoring.

"These are things that aren't typically taken during the residential burglaries we've seen," he said.

The ordinance also would make an exception for trade-ins for items "of equal or lesser value," like DVDs.

Police are currently in the process of meeting with staff at every pawnshop in town to discuss the pending changes, Patten said, and officers are being trained to use the new software properly.

"If everything goes as planned, the changes are targeted for March 1," he said.

Longtime Salem resident John Lydon said he supported the changes.

"The police are doing a great job, but there are lots of hurdles," he said. "These regulations will help them get over those hurdles."

Discussion on the topic will continue during the Feb. 11 meeting, with a final vote on the matter to be taken Feb. 28.

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