- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Prince George’s County officials declared “war” on pawnshops Tuesday in an effort to stop burglaries - the only category of crime that has risen in the county in the past five years.

Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton and County Executive Jack B. Johnson said they would close pawnshops that traffic in stolen goods, and they presented a list of the top four pawnshops in the county and profiles of the top 10 pawners.

Chief Hylton said some individuals have pawned up to $20,000 worth of products in a single month, and he pointed to an unnamed 40-year-old District resident who, in June alone, pawned $6,382 worth of health and beauty products as well as medicine that included Zyrtec, Zantac and Pepcid.

Selling quantities of health and beauty products should set off red flags, Chief Hylton said.

“Normal citizens do not pawn these types of items,” he said.

He also said young people reselling high-tech video equipment and video games should raise concerns.

While careful to say that the majority of pawnshops in the county operate within the law, the police chief declared that police will focus on those that don’t. By doing so, he said, police hope to stem an outlet for illegal goods.

J.P. Kim, the manager of Parkway Pawn - one of the four pawnshops the chief identified - said he had not heard of the police chief’s plan.

“When does it happen?” he asked when contacted by a reporter Tuesday. He also said the pawnshop follows the Prince George’s Police Department pawn unit’s regulations.

The announcement that county officials would target pawnshops came during a press conference at police headquarters, in which Chief Hylton and Mr. Johnson heralded improved crime numbers from 2005, when there were 151 homicides, 4,446 robberies and 15,188 vehicles stolen, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

Chief Hylton said the 50 homicides in the county from January to June this year represent a decrease of 16.7 percent compared with the 60 recorded during the same period last year.

In fact, crime statistics are down in every category except burglaries, which increased 3.3 percent. That’s where the pawnshops come in.

Among the illegal activity that police have witnessed is a pawnshop accepting an entire pallet of Tide cleaner through the back door, the police chief said.

“We’re declaring war on any entity in this county that helps facilitate crime - nightclubs, apartment owners, pawnshops,” Mr. Johnson said. “If we find stolen goods in them, I’ll take the position they should be closed down.”

Mr. Johnson was referring to unconventional actions his administration has taken to battle crime, including attempts in March 2007 to close nine nightclubs and bars where, police said, dozens of violent crimes were reported.

In January 2005, Mr. Johnson threatened to close 22 apartment complexes known as crime hot spots if they did not meet demands to improve safety conditions.

Chief Hylton said better training, lessening attrition, better technology and more officers have had an effect on crime. The police budget has also expanded from $145 million in fiscal 2003 to $253 million in fiscal 2010.

Chief Hylton and Mr. Johnson expressed frustration that more of those people arrested in the county aren’t being successfully prosecuted.

“Our officers are locking the right people up, but they’re right back out on the streets,” Chief Hylton said. “The police department is not the only part of the criminal justice process.”

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