BY DIANE DIMOND
The scene: Flashing police lights and officers pull over a suspect van. Two thieves are found inside along with cartons of stolen electronics and computers.
The scene: A bare-bones apartment where police respond to a domestic dispute. After calming the situation, they discover a horde of stolen jewelry and expensive Rolex watches.
The scene: Officers respond to a 9-11 home invasion call and are lucky enough to catch the perp red-handed. A subsequent search of his storage locker reveals clearly stolen goods, including fur coats, coin collections and framed pieces of fine art.
These and similar scenes are played out every day in communities across the country. Some victims are lucky enough to recover their stolen goods — that keepsake cameo Grandma handed down or the pearl-handle pistol Uncle Joe bequeathed — but often the confiscated items remain stored away in police property rooms because no one comes to claim them.
Some victims don’t file a police report because they don’t want to call attention to themselves. Other times, a homeowner will file a report with their local P.D. but their items are discovered two or three states away. There’s no way overburdened police departments can share information about a missing racing bike or a stolen iPhone. The result: Property rooms bursting at the seams with dust-covered merchandise.
State laws vary, but generally, law enforcement is required to hold on to items for a certain length of time and then auction them off. It costs a mountain of taxpayer money just to manage all this property and to divert trained officers from law enforcement to mere clerk duty seems like a waste of a valuable resource.
In a move that grew out of true American ingenuity, a retired detective from Long Beach, N.Y., came up with a unique idea to lift the property-room burden off cop-shops nationwide.
Tom Lane, the son of a police officer, is a been-there, done-that former cop who well remembers being assigned to clean out the property room. Today, with his brother John, he runs PropertyRoom.com, an online auction house primarily featuring police confiscated goods. It’s a site where consumers can get astounding deals on jewelry, coins, furs, computers, car stereos and GPS systems, bicycles — even gold or silver bullion and luxury cars. Many items on the site start at a bid of just one dollar, and if no one beats your bids in the allotted time, you win!
Lane, whose pitch to law enforcement is simple — “I’m gonna haul away your headaches and send back money!” — currently has deals with more than 2,700 departments across the country. His company sends a truck to pick up the goods then researches their worth, documents them in photos and posts them online for auction. Lane and his crew of former detectives (and one retired IRS agent) take pride in their prompt delivery service to winning bidders.
To date, PropertyRoom.com’s chief operating officer, P.J. Bellomo, told me, they’ve funneled more than $36 million back into local police coffers — departments as far flung as Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Fargo, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis — the list goes on and on. In addition to the extra money, communities get a police force that can concentrate on public safety.
This has proven to be such a burden lifted that now local municipalities are asking to participate too, having PropertyRoom.com sell off used lawnmowers and cars, office furniture and other items. When those sales are factored in, Bellomo says, PropertyRoom.com has raised a total of $40 million for communities.
Naturally, police want to reunite victims with their stolen property whenever possible and so does Lane’s company. If a citizen finds his or her item on his website and can prove it is theirs, PropertyRoom.com will send it to that person free of charge.
One man spotted his missing silver cup sailing trophy up for sale. It was a sentimental award won by him and his daughter right before she went away to college. When the man was able to recite what was engraved on it, he got it back.
The owner of a long-lost class ring was reunited with his memento and so was a citizen whose custom-made, one-of-a-kind racing bike was stolen. Perhaps the most memorable item returned was an antique accordion brought to this country from communist Yugoslavia and stolen from a car during a visit to California. The man who owned it plaintively blogged about the loss on an accordion aficionados website. A year later, a reader of that site noticed the unique instrument up for sale at PropertyRoom.com and alerted the owner. When asked for proof that it was his, the Yugoslavian man instructed the caller to open the bellows clasp and look inside for his name. His prized accordion was promptly sent.
Look, in this time of austerity, our cities need to think outside the box to both save money and keep us safe. This idea seems like a no-brainer.
And while many of us are still paying off Christmas purchases and worrying about buying that special Valentine’s gift, you might want to check out PropertyRoom.com.
Diane Dimond is a Rockland resident, syndicated columnist, author and special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net.