FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – One morning last summer, Stephen Smith got into his car to go to work and noticed something unusual.
“I went to grab my GPS and it wasn’t there,” Smith said. “That’s when I started realizing someone had broken into my car.”
The thief stole Smith’s GPS out of a glove compartment, a couple of power cords and some paperwork.
He doubted if he’d ever get his GPS back.
But Smith didn’t know that Fort Lauderdale Police Det. Jack Gee was on the case and using a new computer system called the RAPID system to track stolen property sold at pawn shops.
For years, police officers have sifted through records of transactions from pawn shops and second hand dealers. Under Florida law, these entities are required to get a seller’s thumbprint, signature, identification, home address and other specific information and provide that information to law enforcement.
In many cases, police officers have had to manually go through paper receipts, days after an item is sold.
The RAPID system — created by Dion McArthur with Business Watch International — is computer-based and enables investigators to instantly perform detailed searches of information on specific items and people selling items at pawn shops and second hand stores.
For instance, Gee said, RAPID enables searches to occur even after officers are off the clock.
“We used to have to go to each individual pawn shop and download the data for that week,” Gee told CBS 4’s Carey Codd. “Now all (pawn shop owners) do — since this is web-based — is they push a button and it uploads the data straight into the web and directly into the system.”
Gee said in the past he used to have to manually perform a computer search each time he wanted to check and see if a stolen item popped up at a pawn shop. Not anymore.
“(RAPID) actually does stuff while we’re sleeping,” he explained. “We’ll wake up the next morning, push a couple of buttons and it’ll automatically show us hits it might have done.”
RAPID also allows detectives to drill down to specific pieces of information. For instance, if they have a description of a suspect, the date a crime occurred and the items stolen, RAPID can combine those pieces of information to see if they can find a possible match.
“If a person steals a bracelet, a necklace, a ring and a broach, we can enter all 4 of those items it will actually tell us who might have pawned that particular combination of items,” Gee said, adding that this is vital since jewelry does not have serial numbers on it.
The beauty of the system — according to McArthur — is that it enables detectives to be extremely specific in their searches.
“Our system — the way we’ve designed it — allows officers to search on any piece of information that comes in from the stores,” he said.
McArthur said the information contained in the system, which also searches through the national crime database, is seen only by law enforcement as they investigate crimes.
“We make sure that we have very strict controls over what our employees are allowed to search on,” he said. “In Florida, no one outside the state of Florida is even allowed to view Florida transactions.”
And the proof of the system’s effectiveness, McArthur said, is in the results.
He said the system has enabled investigators at law enforcement agencies across the country to recover $17,000 in jewelry burglaries in two states, led to the arrests of 7 people in a stolen car ring and helped solve many other crimes.
Gee said he and his fellow officers have seen a 400% increase in the amount of recoveries of stolen property from pawn shops and second hand dealers. The new system has also assisted in putting thieves behind bars, he said.
“I think the victims of Florida are getting tired of people coming into our homes and businesses and taking property that doesn’t belong to them and that is dear to us,” he said. “This is gonna help us take care of that problem.”
Plantation Police have also begun using the system, as well as Hillsborough and Flagler Counties.
For Stephen Smith, he is a believer in the system. He got his GPS returned and hopes the person who stole it is locked up.
“The short amount of time that it took them to locate the items — of the most value to me — was incredible,” he said.