By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Burglars, beware. It may soon be easier for local police to track you down.
The Salem Police Department seems on the verge of implementing an electronic monitoring system for items sold by pawn shops and dealers of secondhand goods. That includes jewelry stores and shops selling videos and compact discs.
The system, proposed in an updated pawn ordinance considered by selectmen last night, reduces the paperwork for police and improves their tracking of items purchased and resold by these stores, according to Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten.
It also helps police crack down on the sale of stolen merchandise since police typically monitor items taken in by pawn shops and dealers of secondhand goods. These items are often stolen during burglaries and quickly resold, Patten has said.
Selectmen held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance last night and will hold a second hearing Feb. 11 before they vote on it later this winter. Assuming it is approved, the ordinance is scheduled to take effect March 1, Patten said.
“Everything is on target,” he said.
Training on the new system is underway, Patten said.
The town’s current ordinance came under fire last summer when Bull Moose Music owner Brett Wickard and Newbury Comics regional manager Sean O’Brien challenged the regulations, saying they were too restrictive.
The two businesses are among 21 in Salem whose sales are regulated by the ordinance. Wickard and O’Brien criticized a provision that required them to hold on to merchandise for at least 30 days before reselling the items.
The two men brought their concerns to selectmen in July, saying the CDs and DVDS they sell should be exempt from the ordinance. They said it was costing their shops thousands of dollars in business each year because they could not resell items for a month after purchasing them.
But Patten told them the 30-day wait period was essential in recovering stolen items sold to shops. Police must check paper pawn slips for each item sold — a costly and time-consuming process since the department receives thousands of slips each year, according to Patten.
The new system would eliminate the slips and require store owners to record their transactions electronically. The proposed ordinance maintains the 30-day wait period but does give shops such as Bull Moose and Newbury Comics a break. It exempts them from reporting or holding onto merchandise received as a trade in for items of similar value, Patten said.
The new ordinance also raises the 21 shops’ annual registration fee from $1,000 to $1,250 to help fund the electronic system, Patten said.
That was good news to resident John Lydon, the only person to venture out in last night’s storm to comment on the ordinance. Increasing the fee would help the Police Department continue its work, he said.
“The Salem Police Department is doing a great job,” said Lydon, 79. “But they have a lot of hurdles to get over. ... I think they ought to raise the fee to $1,350.”
Local pawn shop owners and secondhand goods dealers interviewed earlier in the day said they had not heard about last night’s hearing and weren’t sure if they would attend.
But several said they supported the electronic monitoring system if would help crack down on the sale of stolen goods.
“I don’t have any problems with the new ordinance,” said Dan Driscoll, owner of New Hampshire Pawnbroker Services at 351 S. Broadway. “It just makes people more accountable.”
Archie DeFlorio agreed. He owns the Cash for Gold chain, including a shop at 527 S. Broadway.
“If it helps track items that are stolen, that’s fine with me,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea.”
The store owners said they didn’t mind paying an additional $250 a year.
Also last night, selectmen accepted $344,444 in reimbursement money from the state for work done on the Emerson Way bridge over Harris Brook. That represents 80 percent of the total cost, Town Manager Keith Hickey said.
They also decided the town’s Casino Advisory Committee would consist of six residents, a selectman, a School Board member and either a state senator or a state representative. Selectmen decided to form the group with the hope a casino will be established at Rockingham Park if state lawmakers legalize expanded gambling.
Hickey also said bids for some town projects came in lower than expected, including the cost to replace bridges on Bluff Street and Providence Hill Road. It will cost $1.1 million instead of $1.6 million, he said. The warrant article will be amended by selectmen at the deliberative session Saturday.