Monday, August 26, 1996
"Pawn Shop Cop" Helps Out Local Law
By TANYA EISERER
"We've made (the pawn shop program) work because
we're not out here tooting our horns," he said. WORKING
Around the Abilene police station, Detective Coy Cole is called
the "Pawn Shop Cop." Like the beat cop of old, he pounds
the same pavement daily.
Modest and humble, Cole would rather not receive public attention
for his work, says Lt. Mark Moore, who heads the criminal investigations
"The two things that make it continuously successful are
Coy's high work ethic and diligence and also the continuous help
of our senior citizen volunteers who do the data input to support
the program," Moore said.
More than $80,000 in stolen merchandise was recovered last year
alone. Cole has developed a relationship of trust and honesty
born out of 10 years of visiting and dealing with pawn shop owners,
managers and employees.
Three times a week - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays - he spends
the morning visiting the city's 12 shops to pick up their pawn
tickets. Cole took a Reporter-News reporter with him Friday on
a pawn shop run.
VARIETY OF STORES
"There's a lot of P.R. to it," says Cole as he strode
into B&B Pawn & Trading on Butternut. "Most of the
pawn shop people are good people.
"The general theme of their complaint is that they don't
want to be perceived as people that take stolen stuff."
When Cole enters a shop, he picks up the pawn tickets and says
"Hi." Chatting with employees and owners, there's a
real sense of mutual friendship.
"(Coy) can be pretty ornery, but he's all right," says
Donna Combs, who works at South First Pawn.
Most cities - particularly the larger ones - have a pawn detail
like Abilene's, but they generally don't work it very actively,
"I don't believe they get out and aggressively pursue it,"
he said. "You figure with the volume you're going to get
some stolen stuff. We work to keep them from being a dumping ground."
In 1986, Cole convinced his bosses the Abilene department should
devote the time and manpower to track the property flowing into
"When I was working detective work, I noticed it was like
pulling teeth out of cheeks to get stuff out" of a pawn shop,
Cole told them the department "was missing a lot of stuff
at the pawn shops." To change that, he spent the last 10
years developing a rapport with the pawn shops.
"We've got it to where it works real good," said Cole,
a 19-year department veteran. "They realize that this is
one of the pitfalls of the business. When you come in every day
and they see your face, people grow on each other. I just try
to treat (the pawn shops) right. They respect that.
"I never cross the line. I don't talk about another pawn
shop's business. That's where you build up the honesty."
Cole notes that stolen merchandise comprises a very small portion
- less than one percent - of the pawn business.
Pawn shops vary from the chain stores, such as EZ Pawn and
Cash America, to the little holes-in-the-wall. Some specialize
in guns; others specialize in electronic equipment; but all carry
a variety of merchandise and are regulated by the Consumer Credit
"Each store has different employees, different personalities,"
he said. "They're regulated by the city, state and the feds.
What other business is regulated like they are? I'm surprised
that they don't buck the system more. They've had a black eye
for years. It's unfortunate."
Prior to employment, employees go through background checks and
must be fingerprinted. Because of the nature of the business,
pawn shops typically deal with the economically disadvantaged.
Pawn shops date back to ancient times and are one of the earliest
forms of lending institutions. With the ascendency of large consumer
credit institutions, the pawn shop is no longer a major source
of credit. But pawn shops still play an important role in providing
credit - particularly to low-income individuals.
"A lot of people have a real negative opinion of pawn shops.
A lot of people think that we're fences. But if they need 20 bucks
to buy diapers or food, where do they go? This is really their
only (alternative,)," a manager said.
"We play a vital role because a lot of our customers have
no where to go," said Maria Acuna, who works at Key City.
"In the old days, you could go (to a bank) and borrow a hundred
As Cole visits with the pawn shop people, he codes tickets
based on the type of merchandise. Sometimes an item or a familiar
name will catch his eye.
"We deal with (some) people time and time again," he
said. "You scratch your head and wonder why he's bringing
Sometimes, employees will tell Cole something didn't feel right
about a certain person. At other times, a person's age will tip
him off something's not quite right.
"What is a kid doing with a $300 diamond ring," he said.
"Often, you find out he's got his mama's ring. A lot of times
the recoveries we make are domestic-related."
At another stop along the way, one pawn shop manager tells Cole
a kid spotted his stolen bicycle in the shop. The manager gives
Cole the serial number to the bike.
"We got a hold on it," the manager said. "I guess
he saw the bike, went home and called."
"That's his bike, huh," says Cole, promising to check
Pawn shops don't want "hot" property because they lose
it if it's seized. "You get people you get funny feelings
about," one manager said. "And if it ends up getting
confiscated, the store loses money. Nine times out of 10, the
money's just lost."
Ernest Massey, manager of Wild Bill's on Butternut, said "Most
people know better than to bring stolen stuff in, but it still
Though shop owners are cheerful when Cole visits in the morning,
they're not so thrilled to see him in the afternoon.
"If we see him in the afternoon, ... we know he's coming
to take something," said Nacho Aguero, manager of the Wild
Bill's on Grape.
Shrugging, Aguero adds, "It's just part of our business."
At the first hint that something might be wrong, Bill Horeis,
a South First Pawn employee whose worked in the business for decades,
said he won't take it.
"(Some people) walk in here, they see me and they leave,"
Cole locates more merchandise at some shops than others.
"The more tickets, the more business you've got and the more
chance that there'll be stolen stuff," Cole said. "It
all goes hand in hand."
Just this week, he busted a renter who was angry with his landlord
and pawned an air conditioner.
"Fortunately, (the landlord) had his Social Security number
inscribed on top," Cole said. "There's so much (stolen
merchandise) out there. It's overwhelming."
This week, he's recovered ladders, a jam box and a cassette radio.
"That's a fair week," he said.
Criminals often count on the fact that most people do not keep
their serial numbers nor do they mark their property with some
other identifier - such as a drivers license or Social Security
"That's the best avenue," Cole said. "If we could
train people from the time they're born, it would help us immensely."
Back at the office at around noon, information from the tickets
will later be logged in on the department's computer. Since 1987,
the department has kept a computer inventory of the merchandise
that goes into the pawn shops. After the data is put in by the
department's senior citizen volunteers, the computer will spit
out a report of merchandise serial numbers matching with stolen
Cole calls the so-called "Granny Squad" - Dorothy Sawyer,
Cherry Gleason, Shirley Hudson, Ruby McLeod, Jerri Smith and Ruby
Riley - who assist him a godsend.
"It's tedious work," he said. "All they ask for
is a thank you and a pat on the back. They have truly helped me
All content copyright 1996, Tanya Eiserer,The
Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine
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