LEXINGTON – Last week Lexington Police Chief Tracy Wolf testified at the State Capitol on behalf of the Nebraska Police Chief’s Association in favor of a bill that would require jewelry buyers to adhere to the same reporting and documentation requirements as pawnshops.
Pawnbrokers have to adhere to state statutes 69-201 and 69-210, which mandate that shops record detailed information about the purchase of property, including a description of the item, the seller’s information and identification and the amount loaned or paid for the item.
In addition, pawnshops are required to obtain a legible fingerprint of the seller of merchandise.
Scrap metal buyers must follow state statutes 69-402 and 69-403, which follow similar regulations, up to and including gathering vehicle information, date and time stamped photographs of a transaction or date and time stamped video recordings of the transfer of regulated metals.
Wolf told the legislature while pawnshops and scrap metal buyers are regulated under state statutes, jewelry stores and other businesses that buy precious metals are under no requirement to obtain any information about the seller of gold, silver or platinum metal, scrap or otherwise.
According to Wolf, local scrap metal prices in November 2012 were $283 per ounce for 10 karat gold to $737 per ounce for 24 karat.
“That is 41 percent to 43 percent less than spot gold prices,” said Wolf, “but still a very alluring profit for a thief.”
Wolf isn’t alone in his concern for the lack of record keeping in the sale of precious metals. State Senators Amanda Gill and Jim Smith have introduced bills that would require that more meticulous records of the sale of precious metals be kept.
Wolf was testifying in favor of Senator Smith’s bill, LB 226. Gill’s similar bill is LB 109.
Unlike firearms or electronics, precious metals can’t be traced by serial numbers and are still valuable when disfigured or altered.
That fact, combined with the ever-increasing value of precious metals in recent years, has made it a target for residential and commercial burglaries, especially in Lexington and Grand Island.
Wolf said in 2011, precious metal burglaries in Lexington amounted to a loss of more than $170,000 for victims. In Grand Island that amount was more than $177,000.
According to Wolf, Lincoln has a city ordinance regulating the purchase of precious metals and while the dollar amount of precious metal theft is still high, $350,000 in 2011, Lincoln has more than 25 times the population of Lexington.
“As long as there are buyers that are not obligated to keep sufficient records, thieves of all ages, including teenagers, will continue to commit these crimes,” Wolf told the legislature. “I believe this is a trend that is not going away and I would hope that consideration would be given toward regulating the flow of precious metals.”
In his presentation at the Capitol, Wolf also told legislators that burglaries are often not discovered, or reported, for a week or two and that a waiting period prior to the resale of precious metals was advisable.
While there were no questions from the legislators in regard to Wolf’s support of the bill, the owner of a coin store voiced her opposition to the record-keeping requirements, saying that in the fluctuating market of precious metals, waiting a few days is the difference between making a profit or not making a profit.
But not all who were present, representing the jewelry industry, were against some version of regulation. One jewelry storeowner agreed with LB 226 and there were a couple others who were, at least, neutral in their views.
Now it’s up to the legislators to decide.
“I have no idea if either [bill] will make it out of committee,” Wolf said, “but I am optimistic.”