On Monday Nov. 2, the Albuquerque City Council approved the Pawnbroker Ordinance — sponsored by Councillor Diane Gibson — in an attempt to crack down on the resale of stolen goods.
As recently as 2017, the FBI listed Albuquerque as the city with the highest rate of property crime in the nation. Though rates have come down in recent years, the City of Albuquerque still reported 10,271 larceny or theft offenses in 2020 at the mid-year point.
Albuquerque Police Department representatives said that the ordinance would address property crime rates by increasing the number of cases that are eligible for prosecution, increasing the conviction rates of cases sent to the District Attorney's Office and helping to recover stolen firearms.
On the other hand, community leaders were worried that the ordinance would detrimentally contribute to the cycle of substance abuse and strays further from the ideals of restorative justice.
Per the new ordinance, pawnshops, second hand stores and automated kiosks will now be required to keep detailed records of the items they accept for resale. The new record-keeping requirements include photographs of the seller and the item’s serial number, transaction numbers, the date and time the item was sold, a brief description of the item, the name and address of the person selling the item and a government-issued ID number for each seller.
These guidelines apply to a list of items most susceptible to the property crime cycle, according to Chris Melendrez, the City Council’s senior legal advisor.
Property crime cycling is the act of stealing or robbing goods to turn around and sell them to make a profit, according to Melendrez.
Cathryn McGill, the founder and director of the Black New Mexico Leadership Council, worried about how these new procedures will be implemented in communities of color.
“I don’t have an issue with the ordinance being put into place. I think it is important for pawnbrokers to constantly enforce these rules. Where we get into trouble is where rules are not constantly and equitably applied,” McGill said.
McGill also highlighted the ways that substance abuse and shoplifting intersect.
“We should look at what the underlying issues are,” McGill said. “And, if we look at the root causes of property crime, and if you look at the data, a lot of it’s fueled by the prevalence of substance abuse in the community. People who need to feed their habits.”
Substance abuse was not mentioned at the City Council meeting, nor is it addressed within the ordinance.
In a recent study, researchers Miranda Nadeau and Aaron Rochlen, both from the University of Texas at Austin, and Robert Tyminski from the University of California ,San Francisco found that shoplifting has a variety of psychological causes which need to be treated.
The study found that treatment focused on the reasons people shoplift — “depression, impulsivity, cognitive impairment, anger, addiction, compulsivity and loss or trauma history” — decreases shoplifting rates more effectively than other deterrence methods.
In an interview with the Daily Lobo, Tyminski emphasized that greater socioeconomic factors also need to be considered when drafting solutions to high rates of shoplifting.
“It seems like a community issue, and you want to understand why people are (stealing to resell),” Tyminski said. “Is it because they are poor? They don't have opportunities for finding other employment, or they feel marginalized in some way? Do you really want to criminalize those behaviors rather than invest in some social programs?”
Melendrez said that expanded pawn shop regulations have been implemented in Tucson, Denver, and El Paso, “all of which have implemented similar practices, successfully.”
Representatives from local stores were in agreement with Melendrez and advocated for the ordinance at the City Council meeting.
Stephen Altonji, an asset protection manager for Home Depot, said, “Last year at #3507, which is our Coors and I-40 store, we lost $700,000 dollars in just hardware. This is a major tax revenue loss for the city.”
According to Altonji, Home Depot locations work with APD and their own in-house team to find stolen goods, oftentimes tracking them down to pawn shops.
The new ordinance also calls for more resources to be directed to APD. Police sergeant Jeff Benard said that APD would need four more detectives to effectively implement the ordinance, as annual inspections of 15 pawn shops take one detective about three weeks to complete. Bernard said if one detective were to cover all the stores included in the ordinance, it would take them half a year.
Te Barry, a community leader with the Black New Mexico Movement, questioned whether increasing the number of detectives is the best use of city resources.
“Money like that could go toward more places for shelter for the homeless, and then the biggest, or the main one for me is education,” Barry said.
Councilors praised each other the night that the pawnbroker ordinance passed, but community advocates remain unconvinced about its efficacy in assisting restorative justice.
“I hope that is not considered to be a panacea, and I hope we don’t think we can legislate our way or enforce our way out of these adverse community conditions,” McGill said.
Madeline Pukite is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite