Ad Hock System

Homegrown pawn network, started by one county sheriff 's office, pays off for Florida law enforcement

At a Glance

The North Florida Pawn Network helps investigators solve property
crimes more efficiently and rapidly. The system:

  • Is available to all Florida law enforcement agencies at no cost.
  • Is accessed via a secure virtual private network from desktop or laptop PCs and personal digital assistants anywhere an Internet connection is established.
  • Allows pawnshops to e-mail files daily to the appropriate agency, and staff can then upload files to the system.
  • Matches stolen property against pawned property via links to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's secure Criminal Justice Network and the FBI's stolen article databases.
  • Sends out e-mail notification to the appropriate agency and detective/
    investigator, if a match is found.

Source: Leon County, Fla.


When Lt. Steve Harrelson,
an officer with the
Leon County Sheriff 's Office in
northern Florida, was supervisor
of the property crimes unit
a few years ago, detectives
were mired in a process that
prevented them from effectively
solving many cases.

Investigators had to collect
computer disks that contained
information about the latest
items sold to pawnshops. Then
a secretary would need to
download the data.

'It was a very slow process
because you had to depend on
the detectives to go out every
week and get the disks, and
then you're looking at a week's
lag time' before the information
was logged into the system.
Sometimes, that time
could extend to three or four
weeks, depending on the secretary's
workload, he noted.

When detectives got cases,
they would look at what was
stolen and run it through the
pawn system once or twice,
but they wouldn't check it anymore.
'So you had stolen property
that was getting through
the system,' Harrelson said.

Now, law enforcement offi-
cials are throwing a wider net
around thieves in Florida. during
the past four years, officials
with the Leon County Board of
County Commissioners and
the Sheriff 's Office have
worked to expand to other
counties a Web-based application
that helps detectives
match pawned items with
state and national
databases of
stolen goods.

The North Florida
Pawn Network
lets police officers
solve and close
cases a lot quicker
than the old
paper-based, single-
system, officials
say. A fully functional version
of the system went live in January.
It includes interfaces for
pawnshops, state and national
systems, and an automatic notification
system to alert detectives
when there is a match between
pawned and stolen

Pawnshop leads the way

The expansion of the North
Florida Pawn Network came
about as a fluke, Harrelson
said. One pawnshop in the
county said it was going to send
its data by e-mail to the sheriff
's office.

The initial typical law enforcement
response was: 'No,
you will do it the way we prescribe
as per Florida statute,'
Harrelson said. 'Then, I said,
'Wait a minute, that's a great
idea. If they can do it, why
can't other pawnshops do it? '
We looked into it and found
[other shops] could send via
e-mail,' he said.

The property unit started off
small, working with the pawnshops
in Leon County. Officers
explained to the store managers
how the system would
benefit them. For instance,
they would not have to stop
doing business and gather data
every time a detective sought
information. Also, the system
would help law enforcement
get the data quicker because
now the pawnshops would
send in their information every
afternoon or morning.

'It got to be almost a realtime
system. You pawn it
today, we're going to know
about it tomorrow,' Harrelson
said. 'It sped up how fast the
data got put into the system.'
Before the detectives even got
a case assigned to them, the
data was in the pawn system,
he said.

'So if they were looking for
stolen items, they could find
them very quickly. Right off
the bat, we had three or four
cases that were resolved
[quickly] because detectives
were able to track down the
stolen property.'

Harrelson, an early proponent
of the system, wondered
if it could be expanded to other
counties. Developers with the
county's information technology
department assured him
this could be accomplished because
other counties' law enforcement
agencies had access
to the system through the
Florida Department of Law
Enforcement Criminal Justice
Network (CJNet). So now they
needed the interface to download
their data into the system,
he said.

Once that function was developed,
the system took off
like wildfire, Harrelson said.

The county's IT team developed
a Web-based application
that allowed investigators to
search through data from any
desktop or wireless devices
with their secure CJNet connection,
said Hermon Davis,
justice information systems
coordinator at Leon County's
management information system
division and one of the developers
of the system.

Paper cutting

'We tried to take everything off
the records clerks and detectives'
to achieve a real paperless
system, he said. Davis' team developed
interfaces to CJNet's
stolen property databases and
the FBI's National Criminal Information
Center to let detectives
cross-check pawned and
stolen property statewide daily,
Davis said.

The time to develop interfaces
to pawnshops, the state
and national systems and noti-
fication was minimal. It took
less than eight months last
year, he said.

The Sheriff 's Department can
now locate items before people
know they are
stolen, Harrelson
added. 'Many
times, people are
on vacation when
their houses are
broken into.'

There are currently
18 counties
and 22 cities
connected to the
system, Davis
said. The network includes 146
pawnshops and 215,000
pawnshop customers.

The next step is to expand
coverage to include counties in
Alabama and Georgia that
border Florida, he added.

Harrelson is now in the professional-
standards division,
but he continues to promote
the pawn network when called

The partnership between
Leon County's IT and sheriff 's
offices has worked very well,
Harrelson noted. 'Here you
have computer guys ' civilians
' working in total cooperation
with law enforcement
officers,' he said. 'I don't know
any other system that allows
this many counties to monitor
pawned items.'

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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