Manchester Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur is requesting a review of police department procedures after hearing stories of people claiming they were asked by Manchester police officers — following a routine traffic stop — about items they sold to pawn shops.
"The system we have in place is like the NSA in DC," Levasseur wrote in an email to all board members and City Clerk Matt Normand Thursday. "The government, with its big eyes, ears, nose and mouth, knows everything about everyone."
A ordinance that went into effect last Aug. 1 requires pawn shops and dealers in second-hand goods to report goods they buy for resale, then hold onto them for 30 days in case the person selling them is trying to use the shop to "fence" stolen goods.
Assistant Police Chief Gary Simmons has reported to the Administration Committee of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that it has helped reduce crime. The ordinance covers about 50 businesses and requires pawn shops to upload a digital photo of the item and the seller, along with identifying information, to LeadsOnline, an online system used by over 2,000 police departments.
A city pawn shop owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said in the last few months he's talked to three or four people who say they were pulled over for a traffic stop and asked about pawning items.
"One was an older man, who said he was pulled over for not using a directional," the shop owner said. "He said after the cop took his license and registration to the cruiser, he came back and was asking him why he was selling stuff to pawn shops. It sounds like an invasion of privacy to me."
Manchester Police Lt. Maureen Tessier said officers do have the capability to access information contained in LeadsOnline during such a stop. But the department, and Chief David Mara, are unaware of any such instances, she said.
"We have not received any complaints about anything like that," she said. "The chief hasn't fielded any calls on it either. We aren't aware of that happening during traffic stops, and if it did, no one has brought their concerns over it to us."
Levasseur said he will attend today's meeting of the Committee on Administration and Information System (3:30 p.m., City Hall) to air his concerns.
"I'm not sure when it became illegal to sell things at pawn shops but I do not believe this is what the aldermen thought they were voting for when they voted to allow this computer system in place," said Levasseur. "Now police officers are using this system to pull over cars for minor infractions and harassing citizens with questions about going to pawn shops? I feel this may be a very serious violation of a person's civil rights and we may be setting ourselves up for a serious lawsuit. I'd like to see it looked at, but we'll see if they allow it."