Move over, eBay: Police auction seized goods over the Web

Move over, eBay: Police auction seized goods over the Web

BY TRUDY WALSH | GCN STAFF

A visitor to the auction Web site www.PropertyRoom.com will see the usual merchandise up for bid: jewelry, computers, stamp collections and Beanie Babies. The difference is that these Beanie Babies have been around the block.

All the items at propertyroom.com have been seized by police. Twenty California police departments use the site as a vehicle for selling seized and unclaimed property. Former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates is the senior adviser for the site.

Launched early this year, the site offers security that few other auction sites can claim. 'It's an extension of the law enforcement community,' said Bob Venter, chief technology officer of Property Bureau of San Clemente, Calif., the company that manages the site. 'There's no fraud. This is the police offering this stuff, so you don't have those situations where vendors put up bogus items for bid.'

Venter said he considers the site a distribution business, not a retail sales outlet. About 700 items are being auctioned at any given time, he said. The Property Bureau splits the proceeds with the agencies that supply the items.

The site also offers a forum called StealItBack.com, where visitors can reclaim stolen property for free. Plenty of visitors have signed up for the StealItBack feature, Venter said. People enter information about goods that have been stolen from them.

Police then check the information against their inventory of stolen goods and look for a match. So far, no matches have been made, Venter said.

Probably the oddest thing sold over the site was a traffic light, Venter said. 'Big red-yellow-green stop light, fully functioning. Somebody bought it for about $174,' he said. 'We think a restaurant or bar owner wanted it to jazz up the place's d'cor.'

The primary application service provider for the site is HighJump Software. The Eden Prairie, Minn., company integrated the site's back end system, including database and Web servers for collecting information from Property Bureau's warehouses. HighJump also processes credit card transactions and shipping.

Fairmarket Inc. of Woburn, Mass., provides propertyroom.com with Auctions, the company's proprietary auction software. Auctions is written in a mix of C++, Microsoft Active Server Page and Java, said Bill Watt, Fairmarket's senior product manager for application programming interfaces and integration.

Soon to go national

Fairmarket also hosts the propertyroom.com site on servers at a data center in Andover, Mass., run by NaviSite Inc., a subsidiary of CMGI of Andover, Watt said. Fairmarket stores the auction data in redundant storage arrays from EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass., which support a clustered Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database.

Although the site's 20 current police department contributors are all in California, Venter said, the program should be working with police departments throughout the nation within the year. 'Stolen items have a way of crossing state lines,' Venter said.

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