New technology helping HPD catch burglary suspects
HOUSTON It is one-of-a-kind with serious sentimental value: a 1998 class ring from Texas A&M; sure the gold is replaceable, but the memories aren't. "She does wear it a lot," Marc Krasney said. "She would be devastated if she actually lost it." Krasney and his wife lost two sets of cufflinks and necklaces; actually, they were stolen from Krasney's home as he and his wife vacationed. He credits a couple of Houston police officers, who credit new technology. "People who are victimized, we're able to make it right," HPD Sgt. Paul Urteaga said. For getting the jewelry back, HPD Lt. Sam Kennedy says in the past it couldn't have happened so quickly. "The officers have something at their disposal now that they didn't have before, where they can get instant information," he said. The information comes through a privately owned database called LeadsOnline, and it gives Houston police practically instant access to what's being pawned at the majority of city's pawn shops. "We have where it's been pawned out, the person's name who's pawned it, the name, the address, the item that was pawned," Urteaga said. HPD subscribes and pawn shops voluntarily participate. "You simply click on upload, and it's been transferred," said Jeffrey Chiles, owner of Bingle Pawn. By uploading pawn information like serial numbers and descriptions daily, the idea is to catch stolen items and eventually the thieves. Chiles doesn't want either in his shop. "I have no use for it because I lose the merchandise, and I lose the money that I lay out for the merchandise," he said. In the past, police had to physically pick up stacks and stacks of pawn tickets from more than 100 stores then take them back to the station for clerks to manually enter the data. Sometimes, it would take as long as 60 days, by which time stolen items often have already been sold. Now officers just review a database. It flags items already reported as stolen and also flags people who pawn often. HPD says Jennifer Tudor-Eaken pawned 216 items in just five months. "That kinda says we've got a burglar on our hands," Urteaga said. Last month, she got deferred adjudication for both burglary and theft. Since April, HPD has recovered almost 500 stolen items worth almost a quarter of a million dollars; LeadsOnline costs about $90,000 a year. "It pays for itself," Kennedy said. Krasney thinks it's a good investment. "Knowing someone was in our house, that is so troublesome, but knowing the Houston Police Department was able to find this stuff, I would have never dreamed that could have happened," Krasney said. And he and his wife are reminded every time they reach for their jewelry. So far more than 3,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide have subscribed to LeadsOnline, but the new technology hasn't come without controversy. There have been privacy concerns and about a dozen local pawn shops that have yet to participate have raised issues about liability.