By RICHARD WEATHERINGTON
If the seller of a stolen item lets it go for far below its fair market value, the law may allow a jury to infer that the seller knew that the item was stolen. But what if the fair market value was never established in court? Would the conviction stand?
Recently, a man convicted of dealing in stolen property under similar circumstances claimed that the trial court was wrong and his conviction should be overturned.
A man, whose first name was Donnie, was charged with dealing in stolen property and false verification of ownership on a pawnbroker’s transaction form. The charges arose from the theft of an air compressor, which Donnie had sold to a Florida pawnshop for $35.
Donnie went to trial, and at the end of his trial the court instructed the jury, without objection by Donnie, that proof of the purchase or sale of stolen property at a price substantially below the fair market value, unless satisfactorily explained, gives rise to an inference that the person buying or selling the property knew or should have known that the property had been stolen.
During closing arguments, the state brought up this inference and argued, “this $35 for this air compressor was an indication that Donnie knew or should have known it was stolen. This is worth a lot more than $35.” Donnie didn’t raise an objection to this statement.
The jury instructions basically followed Florida Law Section 812.022(3), which provided that “Proof of the purchase or sale of stolen property at a price substantially below the fair market value, unless satisfactorily explained, gives rise to an inference that the person buying or selling the property knew or should have known that the property had been stolen.”
After Donnie was convicted by the jury, he appealed his conviction to the First District of the Florida Court of Appeals. He claimed that the trial court got it wrong in its instruction to the jury that proof of the sale of stolen property below the fair market value gives rise to an inference the seller knew or should have known the property was stolen, because in his case, no evidence was presented of the compressor’s fair market value.
Value of Compressor
The Appeals Court first noted that although it agreed with Donnie that there was no evidence presented about the fair market value of the compressor, it disagreed that giving the instruction constituted a fundamental error.
A fundamental or plain error is an obvious error that reaches to the basic foundation or merits of a case or affects substantial right of the parties and may result in the voiding of a judgment.
Donnie argued that the trial court committed a fundamental error when it included this inference in its instruction to the jury because the state failed to establish evidence that $35 was in fact substantially below fair market value of the compressor he sold to the pawnshop. He claimed the error was fundamental because it pertained to knowledge, which was an essential element of the crime of dealing in stolen property.
Donnie pointed to several cases in which courts found that giving a jury instruction on a statutory inference that was not supported by the evidence was a harmful error. The Appeals Court noted that the only case Donnie relied on that dealt with a fundamental error was the 2003 case of Tatum v. State, in which the Second District of the Florida Court of Appeals indicated the instruction on a statutory inference without the proper factual basis may be a fundamental error.
The defendant in the Tatum case, a pawnshop owner, was charged with racketeering in the operation of a pawnshop under Florida’s RICO Act. Some of the alleged transactions were made by the pawnbroker himself and others were made by his employee.
The jury was instructed that proof a dealer bought or sold property “out of the regular course of business or without the usual indicia of ownership” gave rise to an inference that the dealer knew or should have known the property was stolen.
The Second District found this instruction was permissible only where the dealer personally made the sale, because the inference goes to prove an essential element of the crime, the defendant’s state of mind.
Thus, the Second District ruled the instruction was an error, and it served to bolster the testimony of the state’s key witness, who was the pawnbroker’s employee.
The Second District concluded that although the state claimed the issue was insufficiently preserved for appellate review, the court said that the error was a fundamental error. The First District Court of Appeals hearing Donnie’s appeal noted, however, that the Second District gave no other reason for its finding that the error was a fundamental one.
The First District Court of Appeals looked at the 2002 case of Cardenas v. State, in which it made a distinction by ruling that an improper instruction or failure to instruct as to an essential element of a crime may rise to the level of a fundamental error.
But in contrast, the court held that a “challenged instruction that merely advised the jury of an evidentiary presumption or permissible inference that they were free to accept or reject” was not a fundamental error.
In the Cardenas case, the defendant argued that the standard jury instruction on the presumption of impairment that arises when blood tests reveal high alcohol levels was a fundamental error. The First District Court of Appeals rejected that argument, finding the instruction neither omitted from the definition of an offense one of the essential elements nor misdefined one of the essential elements of an offense.
As such, the court concluded it did not appear the instruction influenced the outcome of the trial or that the guilty verdict could not have been obtained without the improper instruction.
Here, said the Appeals Court, as in Cardenas, the standard jury instruction at issue did not omit or erroneously define an essential element of the offense.
It merely advised the jury that it could infer Donnie knew the air compressor was stolen if he sold it substantially below the fair market value. Upon review of the record, Donnie’s theory of defense was that the victim mistakenly identified the air compressor as his own, not that Donnie didn’t know that it had been stolen.
As such, said the Appeals Court, giving the instruction in this case did not constitute a fundamental error. The Appeals Court, therefore, affirmed the judgement of the trial court.
Readers who would like a free copy of this case sent electronically should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Fundamental Error” in the subject line.
By RICHARD WEATHERINGTON
Criminal statutes are supposed to be written clearly to ensure that a person is not subjected to a criminal penalty unless the words of the law plainly impose it. So when a pawnshop employee sought to have her theft conviction overturned, she pointed to the “explicit” wording in the statute.
An investigator for a national retail chain, which owns and operates discount retail stores, began investigating losses at several of the chain’s stores in Alabama when he received information from several shoplifters that he should look at a certain Web site.
The investigator found that the site listed numerous items similar to those stolen from the chain’s various stores in the area. Police then conducted a series of undercover sales at several locations of an Alabama pawnshop, with the help of a confidential informant, M.B.
An undercover officer and M.B. went to one of the stores to pawn three new iPods — portable media players — provided by the retailer. The officer had his hand bandaged when he went to the pawnshop.
When they entered the store, the officer claimed several store employees, including a woman whose first name was Jennifer, were behind the counter. They approached Jennifer with the three new iPods, put the iPods on the counter, and told her that they wanted to sell them.
The officer said that Jennifer went to talk to another employee. When she came back, she said that the shop would give them $195 for the merchandise. The other employee went into the back and came back with the money, while Jennifer entered information into a computer.
The undercover officer said that while Jennifer was working on the transaction, M.B. asked how much they would pay for a 60-gigabyte iPod and if they could bring more new iPods in the next day.
The police department executed search warrants at three of the pawnshop’s stores. At one location, police discovered a room that contained new items that appeared to be for sale on the Internet Web site.They found shipping labels, packaging materials, and a folder of tickets for items that had been bought during the sting operations. Jennifer was charged with theft of property in the second degree.
Implied, Not Stated
At the trial, the lead detective on the case testified that during the sale involving Jennifer, M.B., and the undercover officer, neither M.B. nor the officer went up to Jennifer and said that the iPods were stolen, but they did imply that they were.
When they executed a search warrant, they discovered two of the iPods Jennifer had purchased were in the back storage area of the store and the third iPod was on the sales floor. The detective testified that according to the city code, pawnshops were supposed to provide information regarding the items they take in but that, in this case, they gave only two serial numbers.
There was also testimony to the effect that state law required a pawnshop to hold merchandise for 15 days before putting it up for sale or transferring it to another location.
The state played a recording of the transaction for the jury. It showed that during the transaction, M.B. asked the officer about his hand. The officer responded that it was better and that the bleeding had stopped.
M.B. said to the undercover officer, “I’m tired of stealing, man. I’m so tired. I’m ready to go home now.” He then asked the officer: “You’ll think twice before you wrestle them cases again, won’t you?” and the officer responded: “Yep.” M.B. also said: “Man … I need to get me one good lick about a … big screen TV and be through with it.”
After Jennifer told them how much they would get for the iPods, M.B. said: “That’s not bad, I guess,” and the officer responded, “I cut my damn hand getting them things out of the case.”
Working Under Supervision
Jennifer testified that in 2007 she was working at the pawnshop part time, and that her primary responsibilities were to clean the store and merchandise. She occasionally handled transactions, but she had to consult a manager on what items the store would buy.
On the day M.B. and the undercover officer came in with the iPods, she said she took the merchandise to the manager, who was in the back, and he examined it and gave her a price. Jennifer said that she went back and after they agreed to the price, she went to the computer, which was away from the counter, to input the data from the transaction.
She claimed that she didn’t hear M.B. or the undercover officer say anything about breaking into a case or anything to do with a case, that she didn’t hear anything that led her to believe that the iPods were stolen, that it was loud in the store, and that no one explicitly told her that the iPods were stolen.
She said that when she put the number of the iPods in the computer she got mixed up and transposed the middle four digits of the serial numbers. Jennifer testified that she would not knowingly take stolen property and that many customers brought in new property to pawn.
Jennifer was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but her sentence was suspended and she was placed on three years’ supervised probation.
She appealed her conviction to the Alabama Court of Appeals, claiming that the state failed to present sufficient evidence to support her conviction.
Specifically, Jennifer claimed that the state didn’t prove that the undercover officer and M.B. “explicitly” represented to her that the iPods were stolen; rather, she argued, they only implied that the items were stolen.
The Appeals Court first noted that in deciding whether there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict of the jury and the judgment of the trial court, the evidence must be reviewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Conflicting evidence presents a jury question not subject to review on appeal, provided the state’s evidence establishes a prima facie case.
In applying this standard, the appellate court will determine only if legal evidence was presented from which the jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A verdict of conviction, said the court, would not be set aside on the ground of insufficiency of the evidence unless, allowing all reasonable presumptions for its correctness, the preponderance of the evidence against the verdict was so decided as to clearly convince the Appeals Court that it was “wrong and unjust.”
The court noted that the role of appellate courts is not to say what the facts are, but rather to judge whether the evidence was legally sufficient to allow submission of an issue for decision to the jury.
Circumstantial evidence alone, said the court, is enough to support a guilty verdict of the most heinous crime, provided the jury believes beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Circumstantial evidence is not considered inferior evidence and is entitled to the same weight as direct evidence, provided it points to the guilt of the accused.
Because intent is a state of mind, noted the court, it is rarely susceptible of direct or positive proof. Instead, the element of intent must usually be inferred from the facts testified to by the witnesses together with the circumstances as developed by the evidence. Finally, the intent of a defendant at the time of the offense is a jury question.
The Appeals Court noted that Section 13A-8-2(3) of the Alabama Code says a person commits the crime of theft of property if he or she: “Knowingly obtains or exerts control over property in the custody of a law enforcement agency which was explicitly represented to the person by an agent of the law enforcement agency as being stolen.”
Section 13A-8-4(a) provides that theft of property in the second degree is the theft of property which exceeds $500 in value but does not exceed $2,500 in value, and which is not taken from the person of another.
Alabama, said the court, has yet to address the extent of evidence necessary to satisfy the “explicit” requirement of Section 13A-8-2(3). To sustain a conviction for theft of property, the state had to prove that Jennifer knowingly obtained or exerted control over property in the custody of a law enforcement agency, which was explicitly represented to her by an agent of the law enforcement agency as being stolen.
The Appeals Court noted that it is a well-established principle of interpretation of law that where the meaning of the plain language of the statute is clear, it must be construed according to its plain language. Courts are instructed to interpret the plain language of a statute to mean exactly what it says and to engage in judicial construction only if the language in the statute is ambiguous. Criminal statutes must be strictly construed to avoid ensnaring behavior that is not clearly prohibited.
A criminal statute, said the Appeals Court, is to be construed strictly, not loosely. Such are the teachings of the cases from 1820 to the present day. Chief Justice Marshall’s statement in 1820 that penal laws are to be construed strictly is founded on the tenderness of the law for the rights of individuals; and on the plain principle that the power of punishment is vested in the legislative, not in the judicial department.
A person is not to be subjected to a penalty unless the words of the statute plainly impose it.
The Appeals Court noted that according to the 11th edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the term “explicit” is defined as “fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication or ambiguity: leaving no question as to meaning or intent.”
The use of the term “explicitly” in Section 13A-8-2(3), said the court, is not ambiguous. When the plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning is applied to the language in Section 13A-8-2(3), it is clear that the legislature intended a person charged under this particular provision of the theft statute have knowledge, beyond that which could be implied, that the property in the custody of the law enforcement agency was in fact stolen.
Here, noted the court, the evidence presented by the state established that the undercover officer and M.B. didn’t explicitly represent to Jennifer that the iPods they were seeking to pawn had been stolen.
Indeed, the lead investigator in this case admitted as much. He testified that the plan was for the officer and an informant to go into the pawnshop, explain that the property was stolen, and see if the pawnshop would take the property. However, he admitted that neither M.B. nor the officer said that the iPods were stolen but merely implied that they were.
The fact, said the Appeals Court, that the undercover officer and M.B. believed that Jennifer “had to have heard” what was said during their conversation because she was close to them simply failed to establish an “explicit representation” as required by Section 13A-8-2(3).
The legislature’s use of the term “explicitly” in the statute connotes a more stringent level of proof than normally required by law. Had the legislature intended to require a lesser degree of proof, it would not have used such a precise term as “explicitly.”
Although the state presented evidence indicating that Jennifer may have had reason to believe that the iPods were stolen, the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction under Section 13A-8-2(3) because no explicit representations were made to Jennifer that the iPods were in fact stolen.
The Appeals Court concluded that for the foregoing reasons, Jennifer’s conviction for theft of property in the second degree had to be set aside and entered a judgment in her favor.
Pawnbrokers who would like a free copy of this case sent electronically, should send an E-mail to email@example.com with “Explicit” in the subject line.
By RICHARD WEATHERINGTON
Public officials are granted a vast amount of protection from civil liability when they are acting in their official capacity. So it is often very difficult for a pawnbroker who feels wronged by an officer’s action to get redress. But recently, when an officer sought immunity, things did not go very well for the officer.
In January 2011, a police officer in Georgia, whose first name was Kandy, was investigating several burglaries in the county. She was told that two high school students were involved. The students eventually confessed, stating that they sold some of the stolen items to a local pawnshop and some to the pawnbrokers at their home.
Relying on this information, Kandy informed the sheriff that she would seek a search warrant for the shop and the pawnbrokers’ home. Another officer gave Kandy a search warrant that had been used to search the same pawnshop. Using it as a template, Kandy prepared a sworn affidavit in support of a search warrant and presented this information to a local judge.
The affidavit in support of the search warrant and the search warrant, as given to the judge, included no information regarding the pawnbrokers’ home or the students’ statements concerning the sale of items at the brokers’ home. The judge who approved the original search warrant mentioned to Kandy that her investigation could lead her to search the pawnbrokers’ home and that she should talk to another officer who investigated a similar situation.
Kandy returned to the sheriff’s office with the search warrant, and she, the sheriff, and two other officers left in Kandy’s vehicle to execute the warrant. The sheriff read over the search warrant and noticed that it still contained the name of the officer who provided the warrant that was used as the template.
Kandy took the search warrant from the sheriff, went back to her office, deleted the other officer’s name, added her own name, and took the modified search warrant back to the judge for approval.
After receiving the judge’s signature on the amended search warrant, Kandy returned to her car where the other officers were waiting. The sheriff looked over the amended search warrant and noticed that the pawnbrokers’ home address was not included. He asked Kandy if she intended to also search the brokers’ home.
She said she was and that she would fix the warrant. All of the officers left the vehicle while Kandy corrected the warrant a second time.
Kandy returned to her office with another officer. That officer added the brokers’ home address to the warrant and printed the new page. Kandy removed and shredded the page from the first amended search warrant and attached the altered page with the pawnbrokers’ home address to the page with the judge’s signature.
The second amended search warrant was never presented to or approved by the judge. Although accounts of the amount of time it took Kandy to alter the search warrant differed, it took somewhere between 5 and 30 minutes. During this time, the sheriff was in his office.
Kandy then gathered the officers again and told them she had added the address to the search warrant. That group then executed the second amended search warrant, first searching the pawnshop and, then, several hours later, the pawnbrokers’ home.
The judge later learned that the officers had searched the brokers’ home. When the judge asked whether the officers had added anything to the search warrant, the sheriff replied that they had “added his address.” The judge informed them that there was no information in the affidavit or search warrant to permit the search of the residence and that everything seized pursuant to the second amended search warrant had to be returned.
The pawnbrokers then filed suit under U.S. Code Title 42 Section 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against the sheriff and Kandy, in their individual and official capacities, alleging that they violated the brokers’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the Georgia Constitution and conspired to interfere with their civil rights by illegally obtaining and executing a search warrant for the brokers’ home. The sheriff and his officer filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims, arguing that they should receive qualified immunity on the federal claims, official immunity on the state law claims, and that there was no evidence to support the conspiracy claims. The pawnbrokers in turn moved for a partial motion for summary judgment on Kandy’s liability under the federal claims.
The district court denied the motion for summary judgment by the sheriff and Kandy and granted the pawnbrokers’ motion. The sheriff and Kandy filed an appeal of the district court’s denial of qualified and official immunity to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and sought a review of the district court’s decision on the conspiracy claim by asserting pendent jurisdiction.
Pendent jurisdiction gives the federal court the ability to decide state law claims under certain circumstances. They also appealed the grant of partial summary judgment in which the district court found Kandy liable for violating the pawnbrokers’ Fourth Amendment rights.
Qualified immunity, said the Appeals Court, is an entitlement not to stand trial when the discretionary or elective conduct of a public official acting for the government does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.
A denial of qualified immunity on a motion for summary judgment is immediately appealable when it concerns solely the pure legal decision of (1) whether the implicated federal constitutional right was clearly established and (2) whether the alleged acts violated that law. The appeal must present a legal question concerning a clearly established federal right that can be decided apart from considering the sufficiency of the evidence.
Here, Kandy claimed that it was not clearly established constitutional law that, absent imperative circumstances, an officer must obtain a search warrant from a neutral and detached judicial officer to search a home. For that reason the Appeals Court said that it had jurisdiction to hear Kandy’s appeal.
However, in the sheriff’s case, he only contended that he did not personally participate in Kandy’s alleged unconstitutional conduct because he did not know that Kandy improperly changed the search warrant.
Because this argument required the Appeals Court to consider the sufficiency of the evidence only, and not whether the sheriff violated a clearly established federal right, the Appeals Court concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the sheriff’s appeal and dismissed the interlocutory appeal seeking qualified immunity for the sheriff. An interlocutory appeal is an appeal made before the trial court’s final decision on the whole case.
An officer is not entitled to qualified immunity when, acting in a discretionary capacity, he or she violates clearly established constitutional or federal law. When Kandy executed the search warrant, said the Appeals Court, she was acting in her discretionary capacity as a law enforcement officer; therefore, the court’s analysis would focus on whether she violated clearly established law.
The court said it decides whether the alleged facts show a violation of clearly established law by “(1) defining the official’s conduct, based on the record and viewed most favorably to the non moving party, and (2) determining whether a reasonable public official could have believed that the questioned conduct was lawful under clearly established law.”
It is clearly established constitutional and federal law that a law enforcement officer may not search a home, absent imperative circumstances, unless the officer has a warrant that has been fully approved by a neutral and detached judicial officer.
The Appeals Court noted that Kandy used a forged search warrant to search the pawnbrokers’ home and that she did not attempt to justify her error by claiming an exception to the warrant requirement, nor could she.
Furthermore, her claim of ignorance of basic Fourth Amendment jurisprudence did not require the court to grant her qualified immunity. The qualified immunity analysis asks whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his or her conduct was unlawful in the situation that was confronted, not whether the officer subjectively believed his or her actions were lawful. Therefore, the Appeals Court affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Kandy.
Next, the Appeals Court said it had jurisdiction to review an interlocutory appeal from the denial of official immunity under Georgia law. The court reviews the district court’s denial with a fresh look. Official immunity protects Georgia state officers and employees from liability.
However, the Georgia Constitution permits state officers and employees to be held liable for damages “if they act with actual malice or with actual intent to cause injury in the performance of their official functions.”
It was undisputed, said the court, that the sheriff and Kandy were performing their official duties when executing the search warrant. Thus, the pawnbrokers must show that the officers were acting with actual malice or intent to cause injury.
Georgia case law defines “actual malice” as “express malice,” which means a deliberate intention to do wrong, and does not include “implied malice,” which means the reckless disregard for the rights or safety of others. A deliberate intention to do wrong is “the intent to cause the harm suffered by the plaintiffs.”
Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the pawnbrokers, the Appeals Court said it agreed with the district court that there were genuine issues of fact regarding whether Kandy acted with actual malice and whether the sheriff knew of her actions.
For example, Kandy knew that she needed to have the magistrate approve the name change, but then claimed that she did not know that she needed the magistrate’s approval to add an entirely new location to be searched.
In addition, there was contradictory testimony about whether the sheriff read the affidavit, which did not include any description of the brokers’ home, and about how much time it took Kandy to amend the warrant.
A claim under U.S. Code Section 1983 of Title 42 requires the pawnbrokers to first show that they had been “deprived of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States” and secondly, that the officers deprived them of this right acting under color of state law.
Kandy, noted the Appeals Court, was acting under the color of state law when she executed the invalid search warrant. Furthermore, by knowingly executing an invalid search warrant, she clearly deprived the brokers of their Fourth Amendment rights. Therefore, said the Appeals Court, it affirmed the district court’s grant of the pawnbrokers’ partial motion for summary judgment about Kandy’s liability on the federal claims.
In an unpublished opinion issued in July 2012, the Appeals Court affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity for Kandy and official immunity for Kandy and the sheriff. It also affirmed the grant of the pawnbrokers’ partial motion for summary judgment regarding Kandy’s liability for the federal claims. Finally, it dismissed the interlocutory appeal seeking qualified immunity for the sheriff for lack of jurisdiction as well as the interlocutory appeal regarding the conspiracy claim.
Readers who would like a free copy of this case sent electronically should send an E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Search Warrant” in the subject line.
By Ric Blum
Alarms – if you can turn it on, someone else can turn it off
When I first started in the pawn business, alarms consisted of door contacts, foil tape, safe contacts and wire lacing. If you had an “incident,” you didn’t know until you came in to open the next day. Store owners would leave an emergency contact name and phone number taped to the inside of the glass on the front door in case someone heard the alarm or noticed something out of the ordinary,
I guess this may have been why so many business owners used to live above their businesses in days gone by.
Along with advances in alarms and surveillance technologies, there have also been changes in communication technology.
We’ve gone from telegraph, to land line telephones, to pagers, to cellular phones and even satellite phones. It is now possible to stay in touch with anyone, anywhere in the world.
This changes things considerably from the days when if no one was home to receive a message or call from the alarm company, your alarm went unattended.
I now get a call from my alarm monitoring service at home, on my cellular telephone, by text message and even the “Pawn-Signal” (loosely based on the original “Bat-Signal” used by the Gotham City Police Department as a method of summoning Batman in the event of a serious crisis) momentarily after an alarm is sounded.
With my smartphone I can get immediate access to my in-store video surveillance system, wherever I am in the country.
Do I yearn for the old days and simpler times? No.
I’ve touched on safes a few times in my “Tips for Pawnbrokers” column over the years while all along gathering notes, data and information for this article.
It was even suggested by a few that it should not be written. I guess it is one of those things where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Where Are Your Keys?
Let’s look at some security basics.
Don’t leave your store keys in your coat pocket, on a shelf or sitting in a drawer inside your business.
Don’t leave them in your car, either. This will afford someone the opportunity to make an impression of your keys.
Keep your business keys separate from your personal keys. Never give your keys to anyone. If your car goes in for service, remove your car key from your key ring.
Don’t give the service people your house keys, either. They already know your address. You don’t need to invite an unwanted guest into your house.
You should also have a procedure in place whereby your alarm company will call a key person if the store alarm has not been activated by a certain time.
For example, if you close at 6 p.m. and you normally leave by 6:30 p.m., if your alarm has not been activated by, say, 6:45 p.m., your alarm company should start to make some phone calls. Besides a possible distress situation, it is always possible someone forgot to turn on the alarm before leaving.
The same logic should be followed if your alarm is deactivated at some unusual time — other than typical opening hours. A key contact would be notified by the monitoring station for authorization.
We are not going to deal with home invasion, kidnapping or hostage situations. While these are possible serious threats to pawnbrokers and jewelers, they are beyond the scope of this article.
However, in these plausible scenarios, you might be wise to have a second set of access codes for your alarm system that would alert the monitoring station to a distress situation.
Don’t Advertise Your Absence
When you own or manage a specialty business with a high security risk, holiday weekends, vacations, conventions, trade shows and out-of-town family events are nobody’s business except your own.
Don’t put your personal plans on Facebook, Twitter or in the newspaper classifieds.
Did your wife tell the shampoo girl (whose new boyfriend was recently released from prison) that the whole family was going to the opposite coast for a family wedding next weekend so she won’t be able to make her standing salon appointment? And that you just hope your employees can handle things while you are gone, unlike the last time?
This would be the time for the boyfriend to put together his team to test your security system for the next big haul.
He may be watching you. That false alarm you had last week — it was him. He was in with his girl to look at large diamonds, too. (He wanted to see where you went to get them and how long it took.)
He watches you open and set up in the morning and close in the evening.
He also saw how you activate your alarm and know your security procedures (actually, your lack of security procedures).
He knows where you live, how long it takes you to get to your store and which way you travel. You are a creature of habit.
No, he’s not crazy. He’s a professional.
Your employees should also be instructed to never tell anyone you are away (out of town).
The purpose of having a security system (burglar or intrusion alarm) is two-fold: one, to act as a deterrent to those wishing to gain entry to your property, and two, to detect any such entry.
Your security system should immediately notify your alarm company (I’m taking the liberty of assuming everyone has a monitored alarm system), which should then notify you and the police, not necessarily in that order.
Keep in mind that no alarm system is 100 percent burglar proof. Given sufficient opportunity, time and skill, any alarm system can be compromised.
Security consultants say a disrupted alarm is the leading method to indicate a burglary.
If there is a loss of communication between the alarm system and its monitoring station, your control panel is useless.
A security system should consist of four basic features:
1. Perimeter protection
2. Motion detection / Audio or Video Verification
3. Alarm signal transmission
4. Safe(s) or a vault with additional alarm protection
Protecting the Perimeter
The perimeter of your store room or building will be the first thing tested in the event of a burglary.
Front doors, back doors, glass windows, ceilings, floors, roofs and even walls are susceptible to attack.
Commercial duty, high-security deadbolt locks should be installed on all doors (if one lock is good, two is better), not to mention that the doors and frames themselves should be strong enough to withstand some abuse.
For simple and economical additional protection, make sure all your external door locks are replaced with new, modern, high-security bump-proof models.
Burglary-resistant glass should be installed inside all doors and display windows. Additional protection may be in the form of metal grills installed on the inside of all display windows and doors or steel roll-up doors on the outside.
Although there may be some exceptions, generally, if burglars come through the front door or display windows, they are going to be in and out quickly — before the police can respond.
A basic burglar alarm with a bell or siren is usually adequate for perimeter protection.
All doors and openings will have contacts switches installed, windows will be protected by glass break (acoustic or seismic) detectors and other openings such as wall mounted air-conditioners or rooftop HVAC units and skylights should have burglar bars installed in or around them.
A slightly more advanced alarm system will transmit the alarm signal to a monitoring station and may not have an audible alarm. This type of system allows the police to catch the burglars in the process since they won’t know they have tripped the alarm and may not be in such a hurry to leave.
Under ideal circumstances, your perimeter alarm system should detect an unauthorized entry through conventional means of entry. But burglars are smarter these days. They watch the same TV shows and see the same movies you do. They also learn from their peers who have broken into a business once or twice.
They look for the weakest point or use unconventional means of entry through your perimeter. This may be a common wall between your store and an adjacent store room which may be vacant or without an alarm system. Or maybe your roof. There are a number of security devices that offer protection from this type of entry.
A few months ago, a local pawnshop was broken into one night. The burglars broke out a number of cinder blocks from a rear exterior wall to make their entry. The alarm system did not detect them until they were well into the store; they were gone with a quantity of firearms before anyone arrived.
A photoelectric detector has a transmitter and a receiver that projects an invisible beam of light from point A to point B. When the bean is interrupted, your alarm system translates it as if a circuit is broken and then goes into “alarm” mode. These detectors may be stacked in a grid-like barrier to prevent an intruder from stepping over or crawling under the light beam.
This type of system may only be used in areas where there is a direct ‘line of sight’ from the transmitter to the receiver. Secluded areas or long hallways may be possibilities.
A motion sensor does exactly what its name implies; it detects motion or movement in a given area. When something moves in an area where there should be absolutely no movement, an alarm is activated.
There are three basic types of motion detectors: infrared, microwave and ultrasonic. Motion sensors may be hard-wired directly to your control panel or may communicate wirelessly.
Passive Infrared Detectors
Passive infrared detectors are common in many business environments. They measure background radiation by emitting a field of infrared beams and sensing interruptions or changes in temperature in this field, such as a person crossing the protected field.
Microwave detectors are similar to infrared detectors in that they also send out a signal and measure a response. If an intruder passes through the protected area, the change in signal response activates the alarm system.
To reduce the possibility of false alarms, detectors that incorporate both PIR and microwave detection were developed. These are known as Dual Tec motion sensors and combine the best of both worlds in motion detection. Before an alarm is sounded, both types of detection methods must be activated.
Ultrasonic detectors also emit and receive a signal that fills the protected area. In this case, it is a high frequency sound wave that is inaudible to human ears. If there is a change in the ultrasonic signal frequency due to movement, an alarm signal is activated.
Ultrasonic detection is considered old and obsolete and is not the first choice of protection today, but still may be used in older alarm installations.
Areas where protection is needed most would include the area around your safe or vault (and inside your vault), your alarm control box, your video surveillance system and any major corridor where an intruder would have to pass.
Having all your security and surveillance systems installed in a locked closet may seem like a logical thing to do, unless someone accesses the closet from above and disables everything.
Audio / Sound Detectors
Sound detectors use a series of microphones strategically place throughout your building. Having a microphone on all external walls and strategic internal points will allow a monitoring station to hear anything that is out of the norm — like someone breaking through a wall or the roof.
One of the advantages of a sound activated alarm system is that you may catch the burglars before they actually get in your store, resulting is far less damage to your property and hopefully no loss of merchandise.
This is based on the assumption that your alarm is silent. Loud bells and sirens let the burglar know that he has been detected and he will flee. A silent alarm, in theory, will allow for apprehension of the burglar and hopefully get him off the street for a while.
For an extra measure of security, install additional alarm equipment such as motion detection or PIR detectors (or all of the above) above suspended ceilings and in crawl spaces.
Shock / Vibration / Seismic Sensors
The use of shock, vibration or seismic sensors is often an addition to other means of intruder protection designed to protect a specific threat, like a safe. These sensors monitor only for vibrations caused by various types of burglary activities such as breaking, drilling or impact.
Smoke and Heat Detection
Smoke and heat detectors are a basic fire prevention system built into your existing alarm system. Besides affording protection from the obvious, they may also allow for early detection of someone using a torch or other burning tool on your safe. Hidden smoke detectors in crawl spaces, above drop ceilings and in attics will add another layer of protection, but if these detectors are all tied into a defeated security system, all efforts are in vain.
No one system or detection method is best. Ideally, you should have multiple methods of intruder detection from your alarm system. And, if you want true protection, you might be wise to have redundant alarms — two separate alarm systems from two different providers, located in two different secure locations in your store (not above a drop ceiling). Then again, even the best alarms have been compromised.
Ric Blum is a vice-president of Ohio Loan Co. in Dayton, Ohio. He has served as president of the Ohio Pawnbrokers Association, secretary/treasurer of the National Pawnbrokers Association and as a member of the board of directors and the board of governors of the National Pawnbrokers Association. Please feel free to e-mail your comments to RicBlum@att.net or mail them to Ric Blum, Ohio Loan Co., 3028 Salem Ave., Dayton, OH
By Charlene Komar Storey, Editor-in-Chief
Politics are always with us, but 2012 will see a frenzy of electioneering. The presidential race has been under way for some time, with a Republican candidate finally chosen after others went from the top of the polls to “what was his name again?” And that’s barely the beginning. With November 6 still far away, few other contests have drawn much general attention, but that will change swiftly.
The entire United States House of Representatives is up for election this year, and candidates will battle for 33 Senate seats. On the state level, there are 11 gubernatorial races, and a plethora of legislative seats will be up for grabs. Many more elections will generate heat on the local level. And although no other race is as sexy as that for the presidency, all of these elections will be important.
That means opportunity — and work — for savvy pawnbrokers. Although getting the industry message across is always vital, an election year means there are even more politicians to reach. Elected officials must be contacted, but opponents also need to be made aware of the industry’s issues and concerns.
“In this day and age, it’s essential to be politically involved,” says Robert Lambert, lobbyist for the Ohio Pawnbrokers Association. “It’s just as essential as having money on the street.”
The greatest need is to educate regulators, elected officials and other decision-makers, Lambert says. This is especially true in states and cities with term limits, where new people are always appearing who know little or nothing about pawnbroking. “The last thing they’re thinking about is the pawn industry,” Lambert points out.
Professional lobbyists employed by industry associations are important when it comes to meeting this challenge. More influential yet are top corporate officers. But the stars of the advocacy effort often are store managers and customers. They’re perceived as real people — the kind politicians don’t see enough of.
Business owners, managers and, increasingly, customers can play different roles in different configurations.
But Lambert says the best way to reach and educate decision-makers is.
“Invite them to your store,” he says. “Let them see your operation.” The perception is that pawn operations are dingy and grungy. “That’s not the case. Show that that it’s just another industry,” Lambert says.
It also allows your guest to get to know you, meet your customers, and be educated about how your operation works — and how regulated you are.
If you can’t get a public official to your store, you can make an appointment at local offices. That’s not ideal, says Lambert, because time is usually limited when the lawmaker or staffer has a series of meeting scheduled, but it’s better than nothing.