Scotland County sheriff turns to web to solve crime

By: By Beth Lawrence -

LAURINBURG – Scotland County Sheriff’s Office is embracing the internet to help solve thefts and is calling in the Board of Commissioners for backup.

At the board’s September meeting, Chief Deputy Lloyd Goins asked the commissioners to pass an ordinance that would require local scrap yards to join the Leads Online computer program and register certain items that are frequently stolen. The sheriff’s office is asking the county to require that appliances, certain metal, lawn mowers and air conditioning units be among the items registered.

There are currently three scrap yards in Scotland County in Gibson, East Laurinburg and Laurinburg.

Leads online is a website that allows law enforcement to track items being brought to local businesses like pawn shops and scrap yards to see whether they have been stolen.

City council considered a similar ordinance requiring the four pawn shops within city limits to join the system. The rule was not passed because there was a possible issue with demanding such a measure from local businesses. The pawn shops did, however, join the program willingly.

The sheriff’s office recently used a free trial of the system to see if it would be an effective tool.

“We tried it, and it worked awesome for us,” said Sheriff Ralph Kersey. “We were able to locate several handguns that had been stolen locally as far away as Charlotte and Fayetteville at pawnshops, and we located $25,000 in merchandise in Lumberton.”

The program will cost the sheriff’s office $3,700 a year which will be covered by the department’s crime prevention and drug fund.

Goins told the board that using the program would create a cost savings for the sheriff’s office by reducing time spent searching for stolen merchandise.

“We have our investigators now that are solving break ins because they go online without having to drive to Marlboro County, Fayetteville, Lumberton to the pawn shops. They can look online and find stuff that has been pawned and get the names of the individuals that pawned it,” Goins said. “Therefore, we’re saving man hours; we’re saving mileage on our vehicles; we’re saving gas.”

Much of what is stolen ends up in scrap yard, according to Goins, requiring them to register with Leads Online would possibly lead to more recovered property.

Goins cited the case of a thief who stole copper wiring and sold parts of it at three salvage yards in order not to raise suspicion. One of the scrap yard owners became suspicious and called another and found out that the man had sold copper at that company as well. The owner notified the sheriff’s office.

Duke Energy has had large amounts of wire stolen locally as well, according to Goins.

Local scrap dealers had mixed emotions about the move.

“It’s a good thing; I agree with trying to stop thieves, but you’re looking at a lot of work for us and having to hire extra people,” said Betty Martin of Scotland Salvage and Recycling on Dixie Guano Road. “What happens when someone comes in with a whole load of 20 appliances? Traffic would be backed up to [US] 74.”

David Cooper of Metal Recyclers on Old Lumberton Road shared Martin’s sentiment.

“We buy a lot from the Scotland County Landfill, that’s a lot to register. If it just one person, that’s profiling if you don’t do it for everybody,” Cooper said of the idea that businesses might only be required to take information from individuals.

Martin had no problem with registering serial numbers on items from individual sellers.

Cooper also brought up the issue of copper pipes and wiring not having serial numbers.

“There’s no VIN number on copper wiring; I don’t know how I would justify it; it’s not like stolen jewelry,” he said.

Another benefit to law enforcement is that residents can join Leads Online free of charge and register their property with serial numbers and a description. If the items are ever stolen, there is already a record of them that authorities can access to aid in solving the crime.

“I could list all my TVs anything that’s got a serial number or a number that I’ve put on it, I can list it on Leads Online,” Goins said. “If it’s stolen and someone takes it to the pawns shop − or if we can get the scrap yards onboard with us – anything that’s taken there and if they put that number or description in there, it’s going to flag law enforcement.”

Registering property, not keeping track of serial numbers and leaving items unsecured are major contributors to larceny and the inability to recover stolen goods, according to Kersey.

“We make it easy to become a victim of crime; you need to record your serial numbers and secure your items,” Kersey said. “The only way we are going to see a decrease in crime is by working together. We can give out the information, but if you take it home and sit on it, not doing anything with it, that only helps the criminals.”

The board tabled the issue to discuss legal concerns.

By Beth Lawrence

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169

Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169