Selling an Old Record or Comic Book? This Pennsylvania City Wants Your Fingerprints.

A law intended to crack down on illegal property sold at pawn shops has unintended consequences.


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In an effort to stop criminals from using pawn shops, one Pennsylvania city is going to treat everyone like criminals.

A new ordinance in Allentown will require owners of pawn shops and other second-hand retailers to take photographs and collect thumb prints from customers before purchasing or exchanging any merchandise. They are also required to catalog any inventory purchased and to upload that information (along with the photos and fingerprints) to a police database. They cannot re-sell anything for 15 days.

The rules were passed last year to make it easier to track stolen items and intercept them before they can be sold again. But the broadly written law has swept up all second-hand sellers in the city, including comic book stores, consignment shops, and antiques markets, The Morning Call reports.

James Holmes, owner of Double Decker Records, tells Reason that he only found out about the ordinance a few days ago and is now rushing to comply with the unexpected rules. Holmes says he understands the motives behind the law but thinks it goes too far.

"A lot of people are going to be taken aback by that, I mean, most people have never been fingerprinted in their lives," says Holmes. "When you think of fingerprinting, you think either you're going for a very sensitive job or you're a criminal. You don't get fingerprinted for anything else."

Holmes says he regularly buys boxes of old records from people who are cleaning out their houses, gives them a quick review to see if there's anything particularly valuable, and then tosses the rest into his discount bins. Now he's going to have to catalog every record that comes across his counter, along with forcing his customers to agree to having their photos and thumbprints taken.

Keith Feinman, manager of Encounter Comics & Games, tells The Morning Call's Emily Opilo that the 15-day waiting period can be a serious cash flow issue for small businesses.

Meanwhile, people who want to buy or sell a used item can simply cross the city lines and do it somewhere else—whether it's stolen or not.

"If someone refuses [to be fingerprinted], and they have really good stuff, they'll just go to another town or sell it online," says Holmes. "Some people just have privacy concerns. Like, where is this information going?"

It's going into a police database, and city taxpayers get to pay for the privilege. The "Regional Automated Property Information Database" is maintained by a vendor that charges the police force $200 per business, with part of the cost offset by a $100 registration fee that businesses must pay. Allentown is one of several municipalities, mostly in the northeast, using the service.

The unintended consequences of the law so far don't seem to be swaying city councilman Daryl Hendricks. "Anything new is going to have some resistance," he tells Opilo.

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  1. “Anything new is going to have some resistance”

    I’ll bet being beaten half to death with a bicycle chain would be something new, perhaps yelling “Stop resisting” while you expose him to this new thing would assuage his discomfort somewhat.

  2. The unintended consequences of the law so far don’t seem to be swaying city councilman Daryl Hendricks. “Anything new is going to have some resistance,” he tells Opilo.

    Show me a city council member that ever apologizes for being a complete fuckup.

    1. It happens all the time. Mostly during sentencing.

  3. Doesn’t blockchain technology solve problems like this? The Etherium network is already being tailored to address more complicated problems than this.

    Leave it to government to create a problem where there was none even as the solution from the private sector is already in the mail.

  4. Fucking People’s Republic of Pennsylvania!

    A good place to be FROM

    1. I would say that some Pennsylvania politicians should follow the dark path of another certain Pennsylvania politician… but I’m actually afraid it’ll get me into legal hot water.

    2. It’s everywhere…it’s inside you right now.


  5. Holmes shouldn’t have opened up a business if he didn’t want to be deputized by the state.

    1. good point if states like California don’t have to abide by or help out federal laws why should private parties be require to

  6. the underground market will just go further underground

  7. How is this Constitutional?

    1. Irrelevant, immaterial, not germane.
      The law is the law, unless it inconveniences a liberal.

    2. State law, not federal.* The US Constitution is based on the principle of enumerated powers – the federal government can do (or is supposed to do) only those things that the Constitution lists. States, on the other hand, have what’s called general police powers and can write any laws they like as long as they do not violate an enumerated constitutional protection.

      Unfortunately, that means states can do any stupid, self-destructive thing they like to destroy businesses. And while you might be able to lobby that it violates a state constitution, nothing in the Federal Constitution prevents it.

      * More precisely, municipal law. But municipalities get their legislative powers by delegation from the states so they generally inherit the same limitations – which is to say, not very many.

  8. None of those consequences is actually unintentional.

  9. To overthrow oppressive government is the reason we need the Second Amendment.

  10. According to:

    The program does report some success, but one has to wonder, if most all states require affirmative ID to pawn items, and reports to police, what does this offer that conventional law enforcement is not doing now? A computer database? I thought that was what NCIC was for, the recording of stolen items.

    Does the submission of fingerprints and photo for every single transaction make sense? One has to wonder if the problem does not lie elsewhere. Most Stolen property crimes are barginned down to a year or less as they are non violent and not a priority of law enforcement. Not to mention the number of repeat offenders who have drug problems.

    Until such offenders are more of a priority for law enforcement and the Judiciary, the process will remain a revolving door for criminals. Why bother?

  11. I know low level criminals aren’t the smartest people but c’mon they aren’t going to drive 10 minutes to the next town?

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