Cops sell stolen goods online

CASTLE ROCK — Attention bargain shoppers.

Ever wonder what treasures are hidden in police property rooms?

How about a three-stone, 1.5-carat diamond ring? Size 7. Or a new pair of black-and-white dress shoes?

Ann Taylor Loft. Size 9. Or maybe a giant ceramic bear to put by the front door? He’s holding a “Welcome” sign.

“People don’t really understand evidence,” said Kris Allen, an evidence technician with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “Obviously, it’s all locked up behind closed doors. You can’t get in. No one knows what we do.”

Or what they have.

But some of that secrecy is lifting as police agencies across the country are increasingly turning to online auctions to clear out their overstuffed property rooms and make a little cash at the same time. The auctions attract bidders from across the country and generate more revenue than police ever could on their own.

Thousands of pieces of stolen, seized and found property now can be snatched up by, well, anyone.

And it’s perfectly legal.

“There’s actually quite a lot of enthusiasm about it,” said PJ Bellomo, CEO for the online police auction site PropertyRoom.com. “There’s something a little bit naughty about being able to bid on stolen goods and it being on the up and up.”

PropertyRoom.com expects to facilitate $30 million to $40 million in transactions this year, with loot ranging from plant stands and car jacks to clothing, jewelry and even vehicles.

The minimum bid: $1. Vehicles usually start at $100.

“It’s kinda like a flea market,” Bellomo said. “You get everything.”

Mobile phones. Electronics. Tools.

This month, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is handing over five bicycles, an iPhone and three ceramic yard ornaments. If you’re in the market for a large ceramic goose wearing a lei, this would be the place to find it.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office gets 50 percent of the sales price. The money goes into the county’s general fund, earmarked for the crime lab.

Since they signed on earlier this year, the sheriff’s office’s take has amounted to about $2,000. It may not seem like much, but consider that before this, they were donating the goods.

A one-quarter-carat diamond ring sold for $559. A tire gauge went for $2.11. And a digital thermometer netted $96.95.

“I think everybody wants to get things a little bit cheaper than they could in the store,” said Sam Stairs, an evidence technician. “It doesn’t seem to matter if it works or if it doesn’t or even if somebody knows what it is. Somebody will buy it.”

“A lot of people, when they come to us to pick up their property, they’re curious. ‘If we don’t get it, where does it go? What happens to it?’” Allen said. “I think as much as eBay, people love to get in there and get something cheap, this has a little curiosity factor that goes with it.”

More than 1,300 agencies across the country now use PropertyRoom.com. Three dozen are in Colorado.

Count Boulder police among the fans. They started using PropertyRoom.com in 2007, mainly to unload found property that couldn’t be traced back to the owners.

Items usually are kept from four months to three years, and they are posted on the police department’s Web site for four weeks before they are put up for auction, said spokeswoman Sarah Huntley.

Since 2007, Boulder police have earned about $7,500 from the auctions. Compare that to a generous guess of about $1,000 the department would have made auctioning off items the old way: in a parking lot.

“When we’ve got people standing out in a hot parking lot, people don’t want to haggle,” Huntley said.

“They’re going to let it go for less.”

Boulder police have auctioned electronic equipment, a man’s diamond ring and even a fur coat. The ring, appraised at around $800, sold for $175.

“You can get really unbelievable deals,” Huntley said. “People are looking for good prices and good deals.”

The Web site also features a nationwide registry to help facilitate the recovery of lost or stolen property.

Called “Steal It Back,” the registry allows the public to register serial numbers of their property for free.

Police agencies say they always exhaust all methods available to try to track down property owners before putting stuff up for auction.

By JUDI VILLA
Rocky Mountain News

 


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