August 09, 2011
There was much discussion last week about the government's recent decision to ban scrap metal exports for 90 days and to ban scrap copper exports permanently. The government argued that the level of theft of these metals necessitated the bans. The industry conceded that new regulations are needed, but it argued that the bans threaten livelihoods.
There are reasonable arguments on both sides. Thieves are stealing metals at an alarming rate. However, those in the scrap metal industry do a public service. Their collection of scrap metals helps keep the environment clean, while providing income simultaneously.
Another industry, however, has done more harm in The Bahamas than good since it emerged and expanded over the last few years. Police have linked the cash for gold business with the high number of house-breakings being recorded in the country.
According to police statistics, the 3,120 house-breakings recorded in 2010 were the most in the country since 1998 (3,165).
After stealing from hardworking Bahamians, thieves are able to walk into pawnshops and sell what they stole. It is difficult to consider what regulations could be put in place to police such an industry. Most people do not keep receipts after they buy items. Therefore, requiring receipts in order for a seller to receive payment for pawned jewelry is impractical.
Requiring sellers to provide identification before pawning stolen loot too would do little to prevent criminals from selling stolen goods. The thief could simply provide ID and sell the goods, saying he owns it. He could also send in to the pawnshop an accomplice with a clean record to conduct the transaction.
The Bahamas has a crime problem. There will be a fourth homicide record in five years set either this month or next month based on the current homicide rate.
Over the last five years, armed robberies have trended up towards the highs of the mid-1990s. There were 548 armed robberies recorded in 2006. There were 919 armed robberies recorded in 2010 - the most since 1999 (1,024).
We do not need businesses such as cash for gold that are nearly impossible to police. The sector creates a market for stolen goods. While there is debate about the harsh measures the government has taken regarding the scrap metal industry few Bahamians, we suspect, would object to the banning of the entire cash for gold sector.
The high rate of residential break-ins in The Bahamas causes significant costs and stress to Bahamian homeowners. Families have to invest in burglar bars, security screens, guard dogs, surveillance cameras, alarm systems and all manner of other devices simply to feel safe at home.
We have previously argued that stiffer sentences are needed for house-breaking. In addition to that suggestion we think it is time to shut down these pawnshops, which would make it a little harder for thieves to sell what they did not work for.
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