Pawn shops go online to supply law enforcers with data to track suspects

No denying. Prompted by events preceding fashion designer Gianni Versace's murder, the Miami-Dade County Police Department created a system to receive pawn transaction data online from pawn shops.

The 90 pawn shops in unincorporated county areas must submit data about pawned items to the county police.

Before the system was launched in June 1998, shops would mail in pawn slip information on paper, and the police would key the data into their system. The department had up to a month's backlog at any one time, police computer services manager Ram Sukhdeo said.

In July 1997, during a nationwide manhunt for suspected murderer Andrew Cunanan, Cunanan pawned a gold coin of one of his assumed victims under his own name, and left a hotel address and legally required thumbprint. Tragically, the data didn't make it into the police system before Cunanan apparently killed Versace.

Miami-Dade decided to speed up the process. Now, all 90 shops submit data electronically'60 on mailed floppy disks and 30 through a BellSouth Corp. native mode line interface.

No data. Each shop selects pawn shop software of its choice and saves transaction data in text files. A homegrown police MS-DOS application transfers the file to a BellSouth LAN through a password-protected dial-up line.

BellSouth then connects to a police server via a 10-Mbps connection, company systems designer Mercy Dominguez said. The whole connection setup cost the department $5,000 for installation plus a $2,180 monthly fee.

No prying. The server, a dual 300-MHz Dell PowerEdge server with 128M of RAM, four 4.3G hard drives and Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, only receives data so prying eyes cannot get to it, Sukhdeo said.

Another homegrown application picks up the data and deposits it in two places: a database server accessed by county detectives and other internal staff, and a Web server running a department intranet that links to the statewide Criminal Justice Network.

The county does not have precise numbers of arrests resulting from system leads because officers are not required to report them, Sukhdeo said. But he said several arrests have been made as a result of timely pawn shop data.

'Claire E. House

Internet: [email protected]


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