Online service helps local police nab thieves

LAKE STEVENS — About a dozen police agencies in Snohomish County are using an online service to search for stolen goods amid transactions at pawn shops, secondhand stores and scrap metal recyclers.

People at home also can use the site, www.leadsonline.com, to inventory their valuables for free.

That way, if they become victims of property crimes, they already have collected information about the stolen jewelry, electronics and firearms to share with the cops.

Most police recommend keeping such documentation, and the site makes it easy, Lake Stevens police detective Jerad Wachtveitl said.

Pictures, serial numbers and even appraisal paperwork helps investigators return recovered property to its owners, he said. Stolen items, including jewelry and even power tools, can have sentimental value to victims, he said.

“We need to be able to show that it’s yours,” he said. “Otherwise, anyone could just go into a pawn shop and say, that’s my stolen ring that’s worth $5,000 and give it back. We have to be able to show that the property belongs to that person.”

The service, Texas-based LeadsOnline, collects information from thousands of businesses around the country who report certain details according to laws that vary by city and state, spokeswoman Lindsay Williams said.

Only police can search the transactions database, she said. They can’t view the private inventories unless given access by a property owner.

Meanwhile, local police say the database has helped them make arrests in recent years, including in burglaries in Lake Stevens and Edmonds and in a complex fraud and identity theft investigation in Arlington.

LeadsOnline also is used by police in Bothell, Everett, Lynnwood and Mukilteo, as well as the sheriff’s offices in Snohomish and Island counties. Each agency pays for access to the database.

One Arlington case involved a suspect who was using victims’ names to pawn items stolen from other victims, according to an Arlington Police Department memo.

In a 2010 case in Lake Stevens, Wachtveitl used the site as he investigated a burglary string alongside the sheriff’s office, he said.

He put a hold on some items at an Everett pawn shop that he believed were stolen.

He paid a visit to the shop to check them out.

He’d already found a suspect and had pulled her driver’s license photo, he said.

When he walked into the pawn shop, the woman from the photo was inside, pawning jewelry, he said.

It was a key moment in the case. She was later convicted.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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