Some Fear Proposed Secondhand Dealer Bylaw Is Too Broad
By: Mary Stanley
A new bylaw that seeks to prevent secondhand dealers and collectors from buying stolen property and then quickly selling it might receive some debate at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 2.
Peter B. Smith, owner and operator of Sandwich Antiques Center on Route 6A, said he is disappointed that Article 26, which is very similar to one that was indefinitely postponed last year, has found its way back onto the Town Meeting warrant again this year.
Sandwich Police Detective Albert Robichaud said the intent of the bylaw is to prevent establishments from purchasing items, especially jewelry or heirloom pieces, and selling those valuables before investigators have had the opportunity to check if they have been pawned at one of these businesses. “It’s another tool for police to use in recovering stolen items,” Det. Robichaud said.
“I agree with the intent of the law, but it is the language in the article that concerns me,” Mr. Smith said.
He explained that the definition of regulated items, which is very broad, could pave the way for anybody selling a collection of postcards or baseball cards, even at a yard sale, to be in violation of the law.
He said because the definition of collectibles includes items such as art and because it regulates the selling of secondhand items such as a used lawnmower, it places an undue burden on antique dealers like himself, as well as others who may be selling items privately.
“Not true,” said Det. Robichaud.
“It is up to police to use their discretion and common sense when applying the law,” said Det. Robichaud. “Bylaws are written with the biggest, broadest brush, and police have the option to back off of it when appropriate. We use common sense when applying the laws,” he explained.
He said there are many laws on the books where the language and definitions are so broad that even law-abiding citizens could be in violation of them. As an example, he said, there is still a law on the books that makes it illegal to spit on the sidewalk.
“Police are required to use their common sense when applying the law,” he said.
Det. Robichaud said the language in the proposed bylaw was taken from bylaws adopted by other towns on and off the Cape. He said one of the most important components in the article requires secondhand dealers to document and photograph items, such as heirloom jewelry or collections, and to hold onto those items for at least 15 days before selling them.
“It is making Cape towns uniform in their secondhand dealer regulations and gives the police time to recover property that has been stolen and pawned and to put them back into the hands of the victims,” the detective said.
He said other towns and cities, including Fall River and New Bedford, have similar laws and they have allowed police, including Sandwich police, to recover stolen items found at pawn shops in those towns. He said until Sandwich adopts such a bylaw, the town cannot offer the same service to other police investigators looking for stolen items.
Without such a bylaw in this town, he said, thieves and illegitimate dealers see Sandwich as a target to unload stolen property.
“Because we don’t have regulations, Sandwich is becoming a haven for places that buy and sell gold,” said Det. Robichaud.
In the past three years alone, Det. Robichaud said, six new gold and silver dealers have opened up in Sandwich.
Mr. Smith said he is concerned about the burden that the bylaw will place on his business. Photographing every postcard in a collection or keeping used furniture on the floor in his business for 15 days is going to place a hardship on him and similar dealers in town, he said.
“There are so many ridiculous clauses that are just unachievable and unattainable,” he said. “I would have to document every single item I buy each week, even if it is a collection of postcards, photograph each of the items and turn in a form to the police department. I would have to hire somebody full time just to do the documentation. If the bylaw is taken the way it is written, we’re all going to go out of business or be breaking the law.”
He added that because his business has more than 100 dealers who lease space from him, they, too, would be subject to adherence of the law. He further stated that the bylaw contains language that requires dealers and collectors to purchase and sell all items on the premises of their business. He said this is going to make it difficult for him to purchase items at an auction or at an estate sale at a private home.
Det. Robichaud said the clause that requires dealers to purchase items on their premises is intended to “stop the guy who is buying items between midnight and 6 AM in a parking lot.”
He said the police have a good relationship with Mr. Smith as well as the other dealers in town and understand that their businesses require them to purchase items, such as those mentioned by Mr. Smith, elsewhere.
He said dealers who lease out space from Mr. Smith would be required to follow the bylaws in the towns, where they are licensed.
He explained that automobiles and power tools were included in the list of regulated items, to give police the opportunity to crack down on any “chop shops” that may buy stolen vehicles and sell them off for parts. “That’s intended more for the person who is running a chop shop than the individual running a mom-and-pop lawnmower business, selling a secondhand mower,” Det. Robichaud said.
Still, Mr. Smith said he would have preferred to have a meeting with police and town officials as well as other dealers and collectors in Sandwich to ensure that the language contained in the bylaw does not interfere with their ability to conduct a legitimate business or put them in a position where they could be breaking the law.
Mr. Smith said last year, when this article was discussed at a meeting before the Annual Town Meeting, the board of selectmen withdrew its recommendation for the article and asked that more community outreach be done before bringing it back to voters.
The instructions of the board of selectmen were not followed.
“I’m so disappointed,” Mr. Smith said.
Det. Robichaud said he did conduct community outreach, speaking individually to Mr. Smith as well as other dealers in town.
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