January 23, 2018
When Fort Wayne Police detective Joseph Lyon saw four boxes of Beanie Babies in a pawn shop he knew they had to be hot.
“I looked at the manager and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
An hour later he got a call. Indeed, a woman had reported the day before that she’d had four boxes of Beanie Babies stolen.
“Guess what. You’re getting back your Beanie Babies,” he said.
The fabric toys that spawned a collecting frenzy a few years ago are part of the $1 million in stolen property that Lyon has recovered over the years, a rare accomplishment for a one-man show, he said.
How did he reach that Monday? “It’s one Xbox at a time. I just recovered one today.” Laptops are another item often snatched by thieves.
“Every 50 seconds in the U.S. a laptop is stolen,” said Lyon, who has cleared 848 stolen property cases.
Lyon has been responsible for finding stolen property in pawn shops and scrap yards since June 2011. He joined the Fort Wayne Police Department 22 years ago.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I saw 8 years old,” he said of becoming a police officer. “I’ve been living my dream every day.”
As one of the good guys, he uses a computer program called LeadsOnline. All Fort Wayne pawn shops and scrap yards, along with 21,000 businesses nationwide, record their transactions, including item serial numbers. When a victim reports a crime, information goes into the National Crime Information Center, which LeadsOnline looks at twice a day to find any hits on stolen merchandise sold to businesses.
Recording serial numbers and/or getting appraisals and photos of jewelry and reporting thefts as soon as possible are key to Lyon getting victims back their property.
“You think it’s a unique item,” Lyon said, “but there’s thousands sold. … But if I go in soon to a store with a photo, that’s probably your item.”
One business’ accountant noticed at tax time that it had a lot of sales but no corresponding money coming in. The business discovered an employee in charge of its inventory had been stealing jewelry over eight months, listing items as sold but taking them to pawn shops to sell, Lyon said. He was able to recover $129,000 worth of the jewelry including diamond rings and a necklace his wife liked, “But I didn’t have $19,000 lying around to buy it for her.”
He’s “recovered a musical instrument so rare that even the Philharmonic doesn’t own one,” he said.
He’s also found a 1952 amplifier valued at $12,000 that was stolen from a music store.
Lyon has seen three waves of narcotics in Fort Wayne during his time on the force, first crack, then meth and now heroin/opioids. This is the worst, he said. Police chief Steve Reed said Monday during a news conference on 2017 crime reports that much of the thefts going on here and nationwide are fueled by addicts stealing to buy drug.
“They’re so interested in getting that fix,” Lyon said, “they give the items to their dealer … Now when it reaches a shop, it’s passed through a couple of hands.”
The local shops are very cooperative with police.
“They don’t want to take in stolen items,” Lyon said. “… They’re one of the most regulated industries.”
One recently called him to say “We just took in something off the street because we knew it was hot. Come get it.”
Lyon guesses that only 0.1 percent of pawn shop/scrapyard transactions involved stolen items, and tracing the criminals is easier now that the shops require photo identification with a person’s name and date of birth and thumbprints. However, criminals making the transactions don’t always think those things through, which benefits Lyon’s work.
Some criminals sell stolen merchandise directly, and a number of social media apps end with buyers finding that the cell phones they’ve bought have been reported stolen.
If Lyon finds the stolen items before a victim files a claim, he’ll take a photo and process it into the police department’s property room, after which the victim is called to pick up the items. The judicial system allows a photo of the item to be used in court cases, so the victims don’t have to wait months or years for the return of the property.
If victims have filed an insurance claim, Lyon calls the company. If it doesn’t want it he’ll ask if they don’t want it if he can return it to the victim, and the answer is often yes. If it says no, the item goes back to the pawn shop.
– Get jewelry appraised, during which photos will be taken.
– Take photos or make a list of serial numbers.
– Put photos or the list of serial numbers of your items on a thumb drive, not your laptop, which would likely be among items stolen. Store the thumb drive in a safe place that won’t be lost in a fire or tornado.
– Record your items and photos on LeadsOnline’s ReportIt section, which has free storage for photos, serial numbers and receipt scans. Go to https://reportit.leadsonline.com.
– Do a walk-through of your home after having visitors such as a cleaning lady or that cousin you haven’t seen in a while who just shows up. Otherwise, it might be months before you notice something is missing. By then, your stolen item may have passed through several hands and can’t be traced.