- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

For eight hours yesterday, it looked like a garage sale at the Metropolitan Police Department's 3rd District headquarters in Northwest.
Four color televisions, three dusty laptop computers, two grass-stained weed trimmers and a host of paint-splattered stepladders, well-worn toolboxes and worthless jewelry sealed in plastic bags lined the floors and tables along the walls of the station's meeting room.
The police department was giving back to the community literally.
The items were recovered after investigators in the 3rd District arrested nine suspects involved in about 50 burglaries since December. Most of the burglaries occurred in the Dupont Circle, Shaw and Adams Morgan neighborhoods in Northwest and led police to break up four fencing rings.
"Everything you see here is the spoils of burglaries and stolen autos that were found through four different fencing operations in the area," Sgt. James Somers said.
Third District Commander Jack Barrett praised the work of his officers as he toured the display of recovered merchandise.
"The work they've done trying to get items back to their owners is truly impressive," he said.
Officers arrived at headquarters at 4:30 a.m. yesterday and spent two hours lugging the hundreds of stolen items from the evidence room up to the community room. They notified about 100 people, who had filed burglary reports in advance, but the viewing was open to the public.
Officers led people individually or in pairs into the meeting room to check for their belongings. People had been asked to provide a list of the items they were looking for, along with a police incident report, a complaint number, a receipt or a serial number. By 3 p.m., more than a dozen of the 70 people who came through the community room had found something that belonged to them.
"We have to have proof the item is theirs," Sgt. Somers said. "What we don't want is people showing up and saying, 'Oh, yes; here's my camera.'"
Michael Israel, 32, of Northwest came with a list of stolen items that included a box of wristwatches, Tiffany and Cartier rings, $1,000 in sunglasses and a digital camera.
Most of all, he hoped to find a wristwatch his grandfather had given him as a college graduation gift. He didn't find the watch but said he was "very impressed" with the viewing.
"We made a report, and we never expected to see any of it again," he said.
Mr. Israel left yesterday with a Sony hand-held video camera that was stolen from his roommate when their home was broken into just after Christmas. He valued it at $1,000 and said he was optimistic police might find more of his belongings.
Lisia Bjorklund, 23, wasn't as hopeful. A diamond ring was stolen from the Northwest woman's car about six months ago, when she was parked outside a gym.
All she found yesterday were a handful of compact discs made for her by a deejay friend. She estimates 300 to 400 CDs were stolen from her.
"I thought I was going to find everything," she said.
Sgt. Somers said police probably wouldn't be able to link most of the merchandise to its original owners because people often don't file police reports and some stolen items could come from Maryland or Virginia.
The most valuable item on display yesterday was a sound mixing board worth up to $15,000 that went unclaimed.
Along with a DirecTV satellite system, a 7-foot antique, wood-framed mirror and a large selection of bicycles were everyday items of no particular value that looked out of place in the display. More than a dozen pieces of luggage sat in the center of the room. Sgt. Somers said the luggage can be among the most valuable to a criminal trying to get away.
"The typical burglar only takes the tools he needs to get into a house," Sgt. Somers said. "When he gets inside, then he looks for items he can pack his bounty in."
He said burglars take merchandise to a professional fence, a "career criminal" who specializes in getting rid of stolen items. Fences find private buyers for items such as art or melt down jewelry and send other stolen goods out of the area.
"The more specialized items, like construction equipment and electronic equipment, we hit them when they were getting ready to ship their stuff out to El Salvador," said Detective David Swinson, one of the unit's three detectives who was responsible for recovering the merchandise.
Sgt. Somers said most of what was recovered either had little worth or was being stored in the hope the criminals would find a market for it later.
Police keep stolen items for seven years, then it is given away or sold at auction. Anyone looking for a stolen item can call Detective Swinson at 202/673-6914.

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