8403 Potomac Avenue

College Park, Maryland 20740-2508

September 13, 2006

 


Samuel J. Parker, Jr., Chairman

Prince George’s County Planning Board

County Administration Building

14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive

Upper Marlboro, Maryland 20772

 

                                                                        RE:       Special Exception SE-4554

                                                                                    Best Pawn

                                                                                    5051 Greenbelt Road

Chairman Parker:

I am writing to express my concerns about, and opposition to, the granting of Special Exception SE4554, which would allow a pawnshop to locate at 5051 Greenbelt Road and to ask you to deny the application.  I am a resident of the Berwyn area of College Park, where Mr. Scott Cutlip wishes to open this pawnshop.  Equally as important, I am a Detective with the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department, with 24 years experience, and a past Supervisor of that Department’s Pawn Unit.  I am making this request as a citizen of Berwyn, but my career on the police force, and work with the Pawn Unit, gives me a unique perspective on this application.

 

My concerns, which form the basis for my opposition, are enumerated below:

 1.        I am certain that the presence of a second pawnshop will bring more crime both to the Berwyn neighborhood and to the City as a whole.   This is not just my opinion, but is based on the concept of geographic profiling, which is a tool used not only to solve crimes, but also to predict crime trends.  I have had the opportunity to study geographic profiling with Dr. Kim Rossmo, a court accepted and published expert in this field.  In conversations with Dr. Rossmo, he confirmed my conviction that granting of this special exception would draw criminals into our community and create crime as well.

According to the concept of geographic profiling, pawnshops are both crime generators and crime attractors.  They attract large numbers of people, providing opportunities for offenders and victims to cross paths, affording many opportunities for crime. As the use of the shop grows, so does the crime problem in that area. Criminally active individuals are drawn to these locations. Although initially they may come from outside the area, they often move into it, further increasing crime there.

Plainly and simply, pawnshops attract criminals.  If this were not so, then major law enforcement jurisdictions would have no need for Pawn Criminal Investigation Units, which all of the neighboring jurisdictions, as well as Prince George’s County have.  In fact, there is a Metropolitan Area Fencing Task Force which involves the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County; the Commonwealth Attorney’s Offices for the City of Alexandria and County of Arlington (Virginia), the United States Secret Service; and the Prince George’s County, Fairfax County, Arlington County and District of Columbia Police Departments.  This task force exists because pawn operations fence stolen property, and are responsible for funneling millions of dollars into the drug economy each year.

Further, there are only two small businesses that will separate this pawnshop from the entrance to a park and hiker biker trail.  This trail leads directly to Holy Redeemer School, just two blocks away, on down past two playgrounds and finally on to the Metro Station, affording criminals multiple vulnerable targets and a quick getaway to cash in their ill gotten gains.

Now, Mr. Cutlip will tell you that there is a requirement that he report the items he takes in to the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Pawn Unit.  What he probably won’t tell you is that the National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA), of which he is a member, has spent considerable time, and money, lobbying Congress to have language included in Title 12 U.S.C. 3401 § 621. RIGHT TO FINANCIAL PRIVACY ACT OF 1978, which would be amended by inserting ‘[including any lender who advances funds on pledges of personal property]’ after ‘consumer finance institution’.   This would mean that pawnshops would be considered as a bank or other legitimate financial institution, and would be immune from reporting any information to law enforcement.  HR 3505, with this language inserted, passed the House on March 8, 2006, and has been received by the Senate and referred to the Committee for Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

In addition, in an effort to “backdoor” this change, and in effect accomplish what the proposed legislation would, the NPA has been attempting to have the use of the Regional Pawn Data Sharing System (RPDSS) halted.  The RPDSS is sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and is used by Prince George’s County Police and surrounding jurisdictions as a tool to conduct criminal investigations related to pawn activity and property crimes.  The NPA has been promoting the use of a database “l.e.a.d.s. online” as a law enforcement tool for investigating crimes that involve pawn activity in lieu of the RPDSS.  What the NPA does not say is that one of the members of the board of the NPA has a personal interest in l.e.a.d.s. online.  Further, their favored system places extreme constrictions on law enforcement before information will be available, and charges a per use fee.

If the NPA succeeds in their endeavors, and the Special Exception in question is granted, not only will we have more crime in College Park, but the police will not have access to the information or tools necessary to solve those crimes.

2.         Pawnshops, like check-cashing establishments, are predatory and usurious, and injure the most vulnerable members of our community: the poor and the desperate.  The interest rates charged by pawnshops are outrageous and resemble loan-sharking activities much more than the resource-in-time-of-need image that the applicant, Mr. Cutlip would have us believe is his goal. Mr. Cutlip, charges in the range of 20 percent per month (the equivalent of 240 percent per year) in his stores. Our community already has too many usurious and unregulated check cashing facilities that prey on the weak. Allowing another pawnshop would expose the vulnerable population to one more source of potential exploitation.

3.         Pawnshops create a negative image of the neighborhood and the City in which they are located, which will hinder more-beneficial development and depress real estate values.  Pawnshops have earned their unsavory reputations, and the experience of other communities supports this conclusion.  I am very concerned about the message that another pawnshop, combined with the numerous non-bank “check cashing” facilities in our community, would send to potential homebuyers and business people. As Councilwoman Joseline Pena-Melnyk (Dist. 4) said in a June 1, 2006 article in the Gazette newspaper, ‘‘This would not be a good thing for us because we’re trying to revitalize College Park and this is not a quality business.  This is a bad thing for our neighborhood.”   The applicant has implied that the members of this community have an unfair prejudice against, and an undeserved negative perception of, the pawn industry.  However, I believe the perception people have of pawnshops is accurate.  A pawnshop is not, and never will be, an asset to any community. Increasing the number of owner-occupied homes strengthens our community by increasing the number of people committed to the community’s safety and success; adding another pawnshop defeats that purpose by giving potential homeowners one more reason to invest in their futures elsewhere.

 

4.         As evidenced by his public statements, the applicant, appears to be acting in bad faith.  I do not believe he, nor his organization, will be good corporate citizens of our community.  Mr. Cutlip made what have since proved to be empty promises to address our concerns. Included in those promises were the facts that he would not buy or sell guns at the proposed location, and would not call the location a pawnshop.  But, if you look in the 2005/2006 Verizon Yellow Pages, on page 798, you will find an advertisement for Best Pawn, listing the proposed location of 5051 Greenbelt Road, with a picture of a gun, as well as verbiage indicating the shop buys and sells guns.

 

Mr. Cutlip also began his efforts to gain the endorsement of the community by claiming he had the interests of the community and his potential clients in mind. However, in his public statements (specifically, the June 1, 2006 article by Dennis Carter in the Gazette), the applicant vowed to take revenge on this community for opposing his business:

 

‘‘I’ll fight this to the end,” said Cutlip.  ‘‘I’m taking it personal [sic]...  I was willing to work with them. They put all these restrictions on me, but then they still stand in opposition. They think their [city] is better than Landover or Riverdale or Capitol Heights because they have pawnshops, and that is ridiculous.”   Cutlip said he was frustrated by the city’s refusal to support his store, adding that if his application is approved, all compromises he discussed with residents and College Park officials would be null and void.  ‘‘I’ll do whatever I want,” Cutlip said. ‘‘I’ll call it a pawnshop. ... If I get the shop, I’m going to sell whatever I want and make some money.”  

 

I submit that, based on the applicant’s own statements, as well as the other reasons discussed, the community’s fears of having such an enterprise in our City would be realized.  It is for all these reasons, I am sure our community would best be served by the denial of Mr. Cutlip’s application, and I therefore respectfully request the Board duly deny this application.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Deborah J. Vanadia-Mims

Board Member, Neighborhood Preservation Coalition

Board Member, Berwyn District Civic Association