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(The Tennessean - Mufreesboro) Antiques dealer Randy Smotherman hopes the city will not require him to take photos of the folks selling him jewelry.

"The last family I bought jewelry from, the lady was about 80 years old, and it had been hers and her husband's," said Smotherman, noting he'd rather not have to explain why he'd be taking photos of people and examining their photo identifications for potential police records in case the merchandise was stolen. "It's almost an insult to them."

The Murfreesboro Police Department wants an ordinance to require businesses that sell secondhand items such as precious metals and jewelry to help track down burglars through collecting data about merchandise and the sellers.

The City Council on Dec. 5, however, deferred a decision 60 days to study ways to ensure such a regulation won't cause too much of a burden, Mayor Tommy Bragg said recently.

"We're asking our secondhand dealers to help us put together an ordinance that will be responsible to property owners who lose property during a theft, and helpful to our police department during an investigation of those burglaries," Bragg said.

The mayor noted the city has many types of businesses that sell secondhand merchandise, including antiques dealers; estate dealers; booksellers; and jewelry, video, sporting goods and electronics stores.

"And with so many different types of secondhand dealers, it is difficult to describe and limit the administrative costs of working with our police department during investigations," said Bragg, who hopes the businesses can work out a plan with the police department with which they can live.

Given that the state already regulates pawn shops, police here hope to establish a similar method to track merchandise from other secondhand businesses and sellers that could even come from burglaries in other states, the mayor said.

Murfreesboro police have been meeting with the secondhand businesses to discuss the issue, according to a letter Police Chief Glenn Chrisman wrote to the seven-member City Council.

"If approved, these provisions will help to establish a more standardized method of recording and reporting transactions of pawned and secondhand items in our city," the letter states. "Items which are stolen in thefts and burglaries are typically sold and converted to cash as quickly as possible.

"If/when these items are sold/pawned to pawnbrokers, they are reported to the police, and transaction information can be tracked by the assigned law enforcement investigator in an effort to identify a suspect. Without similar record-keeping and reporting by secondhand dealers, law enforcement has no means of locating stolen property sold to secondhand dealers, or identifying individuals responsible for these property crimes."

Computer tracking

Police want the secondhand dealers to use a LeadsOnline computer system to keep track of merchandise.

Nationally, there are 2,658 law enforcement agency members using LeadsOnline, according to the police chief's letter, noting that 96 are in Tennessee, including all police agencies in Rutherford County.

Antiques dealers, however, should be exempt, said Smotherman, whose shop that he owns with wife, Belinda, has been at 127 S. Church Street in the Public Square area for about five years.

He can think of only two times in the 34 years he's run the business that he's encountered someone trying to sell stolen merchandise. Both times, Smotherman said, he contacted the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office to catch the seller.

"The majority of all of our purchases is buying directly from the families at the home," Smotherman said.

Although he understands that other businesses might argue it's not fair to exempt antiques dealers, Smotherman said he's not buying jewelry to melt down gold, thus destroying evidence if the item had been stolen.

"If we buy an antique ring, we put it in the showcase," he said. "We try to preserve antique jewelry. We don't want to melt it down."

The antiques dealer said he understands the desire to track burglaries, such as the time he lost $20,000 in merchandise he had stored on a farm.

"We caught the guy" but never received restitution, he said.

Smotherman also worries about keeping computer records.

"We use an antique cash register that's 100 years old that we have to hand crank," he said. "Our business is not on computerized records to start with, and I'm too old."

Smotherman said he appreciates the work Chrisman has done to listen to the secondhand businesses and hopes any ordinances will not cause too much of a burden.

"If we are forced into it, we are going to make the choice not to buy antique jewelry from individuals in Murfreesboro. That's really the only way we can stay out of it."

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