County: Pawn Shops Are Link In Drug Crisis

County Executive Steve Bellone announces a series of bills aimed at regulating pawn shop sales at a press conference on Jan. 15.

County Executive Steve Bellone announces a series of bills aimed at regulating pawn shop sales at a press conference on Jan. 15.

A series of bills aimed at making it more difficult for heroin addicts to turn stolen items into drug money will be introduced in the Suffolk County Legislature next month, officials announced.

The legislation, if adopted, would require pawn shops and precious metal and gem dealers to take digital photographs of each seller, each seller’s identification and each item being sold, and upload the images to a computerized tracking system, Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini said last week. Sellers would also be required to take photographs of individuals selling gift cards, and secondhand dealers would be required to wait 21 days after the sale to delete data off of devices sold to them, Sini said.

“The vast majority” of pawn shops in Suffolk County are “legitimate, honest paces of business,” Sini said; but a “select few” knowingly buy stolen property.

“You have people who are suffering from Opioid dependency, and they need to fuel the addiction, and they turn to theft,” said Sini, noting that addicts will steal from cars, stores and people’s homes and then turn those stolen goods into cash by selling them to pawn shops.

At a Jan. 15 press conference, County Executive Steve Bellone announced the legislation after discussing arrests made in connection with a string of gas station and Dunkin Donuts robberies.

“These crimes did not happen in a vacuum,” Bellone said of the robberies, for which two men whom officials identified as heroin addicts were arrested last week. “They are related to a larger issue that is something we face in this county and, quite frankly, across our country. That is the heroin and prescription drug epidemic.”

Bellone appointed Sini to come up with a “multi-prong, comprehensive approach” to battling the epidemic.

“As the police have noted, we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Bellone said. “The heroin addicts who are committing these crimes are seeking money in order to feed their habit, and they’re using pawn shops in order to feed their habit. And this legislation that we are putting forward is intended to help close of that ability to feed that habit.”

District Attorney Thomas Spota called the question of passing the legislation a “no-brainer.” Suffolk Chief of Police James Burke said that Opioid addiction – heroin, specifically – is driving crime in Suffolk County as well as in other parts of the country.

“The unscrupulous pawn shop owners are fueling the addiction, and thereby fueling the crime,” Burke said.

An investigation by the police department and the county’s department of consumer affairs, involving undercover police officers posing as individuals selling stolen property, resulted in the arrest of three Long Island pawn shop operators and the execution of two search warrants of pawn shops over the past several weeks, Sini said.

After it is introduced at the meeting of the legislature on Feb. 3, the bills will be up for public hearing on March 3 and eligible for adoption on March 24, according to Sini.