With Theft on the Rise, Sheriff to Push for Mandatory Pawn Shop Registry

Online service has helped Kalispell police recover thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen goods

By Justin Franz
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Last April, Al Schumacher woke up one morning and noticed that the side door to his garage was left open. When the longtime Kalispell resident walked outside to close the door, he looked into the garage and realized that someone had stolen more than $800 worth of tools. Schumacher called the police but none of the tools were ever recovered.

Seven months later, Schumacher and his wife were spending Thanksgiving in Butte when they got a call from the Kalispell Police Department informing them that their eastside home had been broken into again. This time, the thieves smashed a window to open a back door before stealing jewelry, a television, fishing equipment and camping gear.

“You feel violated, you feel frightened and you feel angry,” Schumacher said of the two thefts within a few months at his house.

Schumacher is not alone. Law enforcement officials across the Flathead Valley say there has been an uptick in property crime in recent years. Sheriff Chuck Curry and Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset both attribute the increase to the valley’s growing drug problem and lack of jail space.

“A lot of meth users don’t have a six-figure job but they do have a six-figure meth habit, so to support that they victimize random citizens,” Curry said.

In an effort to help recover stolen goods, the City of Kalispell has subscribed to a service called Leads Online, where local pawnshops can register goods that they buy to ensure it is not stolen. Nasset said the police department has used the service since 2012 and has recovered thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen goods. In the last year, the service has helped recover tools, guns and more than $16,000 worth of stolen jewelry. The service has also helped bring charges against numerous individuals, Nasset said.

“We’ve had a lot of success recovering stolen goods because of this service,” Nasset said. “We pay an annual fee to use Leads Online and I wouldn’t pay it if I didn’t think it worked, but it does work. It works really well.”

Curry said the sheriff’s office also subscribes to Leads Online but that Flathead County doesn’t have an ordinance like Kalispell that requires pawnshops to register what they take in. Curry said he plans to go to the county commission in the coming months with a proposal for a pawnshop ordinance.

County Commissioner Gary Krueger said he would consider a pawnshop ordinance, although he “has a lot of questions” about it. He said that some of the pawnshop owners he has talked to are against it and that he doesn’t think it would resolve the county’s theft problem. He noted that some thieves pawn stolen goods outside of the county and that Leads Online wouldn’t be able to track those items. Krueger admitted that theft is a major problem in the county, noting that his shop has been broken into three times in the last six years, most recently last summer.

“Your best bet is buying a good security system for your house and making sure you lock your doors,” he said.

But that doesn’t comfort Schumacher and his wife, Margret Stadler, who said they support a countywide pawnshop ordinance.

“You used to be able to leave your doors unlocked and not even worry about having a screwdriver stolen,” Stadler said.