PORTSMOUTH — The city of Portsmouth’s Pawn Shops and Second Hand Stores ordinance is dead in the water about as quickly as it was introduced.
At Monday night’s Portsmouth City Council meeting, Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas told Council they don’t have a leg to stand on in their attempt to force pawn shops to file all their transactions through LEADSonline, a private website that allows law enforcement to have a tool to locate stolen merchandise.
“After doing some additional research on the Pawn Brokers Chapter 771, what I have learned is that the state statute overrides the city’s authority,” Haas said. “So I recommend that instead of amending this that we just repeal the whole chapter 771.”
Haas told the Daily Times after the meeting, the reason for the change is that the state of Ohio has preempted the city’s ability to do any legislation with respect to pawn shops in any manner at all including setting fees and licensing.
The second part of the ordinance dealt with second hand dealers, but Haas said second hand dealers are not affected by the statute in the first place so he recommended leaving it off.
“I think the way Council is approaching it was that we weren’t going to require the second hand shops to comply or be involved in the LEADS program,” Haas said. “Most of the second hand shops are consignment type stores and that wouldn’t even apply. So I think the second hand section of the city ordinance (Chapter 773) will stay the same, but we’re going to repeal it in its entirety the pawn broker ordinances.”
Haas said, after further investigation, he found that where the process is in operation it is being done on a voluntary basis. He also said some municipalities have failed to repeal their ordinance even though it is in direct conflict with the Ohio Revised Code.
“The cities in Ohio that have ordinances on their books that deal with pawn brokers, they’re like ours, probably when push comes to shove it would have no enforceability,” Haas said. “They have neglected to repeal their ordinances. So where we find cities that have that, it’s unenforceable. I was really shocked to see probably the majority of the cities out there have not bothered to repeal their code sections.”
Portsmouth Mayor Jim Kalb asked what feeback the city has received from pawn shops.
“We haven’t received any complaints about it from pawn brokers,” Haas said. “I think Mr. (Frank) Gerlach who spoke at our last meeting did a public records request wanting to know what the cost to the city was and I’m certain (Portsmouth Police) Chief (Robert) Ware responded and I have not heard anything from him.”
Gerlach, a Portsmouth attorney, who is a former mayor and city manager of Portsmouth, himself owns a pawn shop – Diamond Gems.
Kalb said he believes the use of LEADSOnline is a benefit to both the city, aiding in law enforcement, and the pawn shops.
“The pawn brokers her in town know it,” Haas said. “We have had success in pawn brokers using it voluntarily.”
Ware said in November of 2014, the police department had approached all of the pawn shops to voluntarily start using LEADSOnline and received approximately 50 percent participation.
“Since that time we’ve had another pawn shop come in and begin to participate,” Ware said. “So we’re very happy with the voluntary compliance. It’s two-fold – first to protect the interest of these business organizations, but the LEADSOnline program is also a way for citizens to record their property in the system, that way anyone who participates nationwide in the LEADSOnline system there’s a way for them to identify that property and get it back to the owners.”
Ware said he spoke with Gerlach and expressed his gratitude to him for for the extend to which his company is participating now.
“It just makes good business sense to the community if that business is participating voluntarily,” Ware said. “The citizens feel that business is doing everything to be reputable and protect the property owners.”
First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson said he is seeing a trend in state government in which the state is assuming more power and overriding home rule.
If a bill introduced in the state Senate this past week becomes law, pawn shops would not even have to report their transaction on paper forms. They would, however, have to keep them on record and have them for law enforcement should they request them.