By Police Senior Sergeant Shayne Wainhouse
Recent coverage about thieves convicted after selling stolen goods to Whanganui second-hand businesses, has highlighted how police and store-owners co-operate to return stolen items to their rightful owners.
Whanganui Police have a long-standing working relationship with local second-hand dealers, including the local Cash Converters, two other second-hand stores, and scrap metal dealers.
Dealers keep a record of all items purchased or pawned with a description of the item, make, model serial numbers and the identity of the seller.
Our community patrols visit weekly to collect copies of those records. In the case of Cash Converters, which makes the greatest number of purchases, they provide us with a spreadsheet electronically.
There are three main ways in which stolen goods tend to be identified.
When our staff attend a property following a burglary, they obtain as detailed a description as possible of stolen belongings and any other information, such as serial numbers.
We advise burglary victims to keep an eye out at local stores and, if they spot their property, to inform the manager and us. We find this is the most common way for stolen items to be identified in second-hand stores.
The second is via our intel analysts going through these store records, looking for property of interest — such as items from burglaries, or vendors who are known to us.
If items are identified as stolen, the businesses hand these over to police voluntarily and take the loss — although, where possible, we will seek reparation on the store's behalf once a case gets to court.
The third way is that often store staff will suspect an item is stolen. Sometimes because the real owner has alerted them, or simply because the would-be-seller's story does not ring true.
Items may also be identified through DNA asset marking. A few years ago, our Neighbourhood Police Team provided households throughout the Gonville and Castlecliff area with DIY kits to mark belongings with DNA dots, enabling them to be traced back to the owner. This is invisible to the naked eye, but police and Cash Converters have ultra violet lamps which can identify any such marks.
If dealers suspect an item is stolen, they will decline to purchase it, and alert us. Cash Converters also has very good CCTV systems, so all sellers are captured on camera. This footage, combined with their requirement for photo ID, means if an item turns out to be stolen, identity is rarely an issue.
Nationally, Cash Converters also has a letter of agreement with New Zealand Police and every member of staff is police vetted.
By and large, these measures deter most thieves from trying to sell goods at the stores. In the case of Cash Converters, we only get about 24 recoveries per year — out of thousands and thousands of transactions they put through.
Their robust systems make it easier to pinpoint stolen goods and to identify the sellers and, due to the quality of evidence available, charges can usually be laid.
Such cases can also lead to recovery of other stolen goods.
In one recent substantial burglary, a large amount of jewellery was taken, including a distinctive ring. This was sold to Cash Converters and, identified through these processes, and that resulted in police executing a search warrant and recovering property, not only from that burglary, but from about 10-12 others in the Whanganui area.
Our local second-hand dealers are doing everything they can to pinpoint stolen goods, where possible before purchase. If anyone tries to sell a stolen item to the stores, the high likelihood is that they will be identified and charged.
In our experience, thieves may try to get around this by getting other people to sell things for them. If someone asks you to sell something on their behalf, unless you know them very well and there is a good reason, the best response is to refuse — or you could be the one getting a call from police.
Owners of property can also play their part in helping ensure that any items stolen from them are easily identifiable.
One of the biggest challenges police face following a burglary is that many people do not keep a good record of their belongings. They can usually give a description, make and model number — but if you key 'Samsung 42-inch TV' into the police system, there will be loads of hits from all around the country.
By keeping records of those unique serial numbers there's a much better chance of identifying your belongings.
A good way to do this is via SNAP (Serial Number Action Partnership), an initiative of the New Zealand Police, aimed at preventing burglary and property offending, and make it harder for criminals to sell stolen goods.
It's a free service, supported by a number of partners, including Cash Converters, which allows anyone to enter and maintain details — such as descriptions and serial numbers — of all their important possessions or assets.
Your personal SNAP records cannot be accessed by anyone but you — but, if any of your items are stolen, you can instantly retrieve your asset list details and forward these to police and your insurance company.
■ Senior Sergeant Shayne Wainhouse is the police prevention manager for Whanganui and the wider area.