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Police departments across the country are using a national system to solve more crimes

Investigators use LeadsOnline to identify criminals selling stolen goods within their jurisdictions and beyond


LeadsOnline maintains an automated system that receives transaction information from businesses that receive merchandise from the public such as pawn shops, secondhand stores, scrap metal processors and precious metals dealers.

Image/Christopher Woo

The following is paid content sponsored by LeadsOnline

By Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Property crimes plague almost every police force. Property can be difficult to positively identify and suspects often leave the jurisdiction or use others to sell for them. To balance the scales, some departments are turning to a national system called LeadsOnline as a tool to identify suspects, recover property for crime victims and clear those cases much more efficiently.

LeadsOnline maintains an automated system that receives transaction information from businesses that receive merchandise from the public such as pawn shops, secondhand stores, scrap metal processors and precious metals dealers. The vast majority of the transactions are legal, but those selling items related to illegal activity tend to blend in with the other customer transactions.

In most states, precious metals dealers, pawn shops and other similar businesses are required to provide the authorities with a record of their transactions that includes the seller’s name, address, and a description of the merchandise. Some jurisdictions require businesses to include a photo.

Track the untraceable

Requiring a record is one thing, but being able to make use of it in a timely manner is another. Recordkeeping systems require manpower, money and time to focus with limited resources. Because of this, reporting rules go unenforced, transaction records are not seen by detectives, and crimes go unsolved.

Often, police departments lag months behind in processing the tickets they collect from these vendors, severely limiting law enforcement’s ability to effectively work their cases. Having an automated system in place offers departments and businesses the ability to get that information in time to act on it. Having a nationwide system allows investigators to find the suspects and property even when they leave the city, county or state where the crime was committed.

Recently, a double homicide was committed in Paducah, Kentucky. Paducah Police Department investigators used LeadsOnline to find the suspect and link him to the murders. The suspect had sold the victim’s wallet to a pawnshop north of Chicago, approximately 400 miles away.

Adapting to local reporting requirements

In some jurisdictions, reporting to law enforcement via LeadsOnline is specifically required by law. Even where LeadsOnline is not required, businesses use the system as an easy way to meet reporting requirements.

The City of Houston requires scrap metal dealers to report via LeadsOnline. Detectives have found that the data can be instrumental in furthering investigations and securing convictions. Officer Oscar Gamez of the Houston Police Department has used LeadsOnline for years and seen great results. “About 90 percent of cases result in a conviction based on information we got from LeadsOnline.” he said.

Being able to search the names, addresses and photos of those who have sold suspected stolen metal can lead to a positive outcome in investigations.

Cut down on legwork

In one case, Gamez said, a business called after a series of metal thefts at two work sites. The materials thefts were causing the cost of the projects to double, and the owners suspected employee involvement.

By plugging the names of the jobsite employees into the LeadsOnline metal theft investigation system, Gamez and his unit were able to zero in on the suspects quickly. They ultimately charged the employees with the theft, saving the business a great deal of money. The system saved the investigators a lot of legwork.

Nationwide service with continuous improvement

Because LeadsOnline is a national database, officers benefit from the collective knowledge of departments across the country. For example, Investigators with the Atlanta Police Department can share information with Birmingham detectives.

There is an additional benefit to joining a widely used hosted system: As the system is improved, those improvements become available to all departments across the country. In essence, departments benefit from the input of other departments, and the system improves over time.

Extensive applications

The service provided by LeadsOnline significantly cuts down on the time required to track the sale of stolen goods. This allows departments to track these sales and the trends associated with them in real time and solve property crimes faster.

Even when investigators are not searching LeadsOnline, hits are produced on serial numbers reported to NCIC and items from agency stolen property lists as hundreds of thousands of transactions are added to the system each day.