To help stem a rising tide of burglaries, the D.C. police department has started enforcing a 45-year-old law to guard against the "fencing" of stolen goods through second-hand stores.
But the long arm of the law has extended into the thrift shops run by groups like the Junior League and Goodwill Industries, who are annoyed that they have to file the same daily police reports as pawn shops -- and are fined when they do not.
"At the Junior League we are not known criminals," said Jean Ward, manager of the Junior League Shop of 3037 M. St. NW.
David Becker, president of Goodwill Industries in the District said, "If the law is strenuously enforced, it will put us out of business."
Since October, the police department's pawn section has required about 300 second-hand stores in the city -- pawn shops, antique dealers, junk dealers and stores run by groups like the Salvation Army and Goodwill -- to file daily reports, detailing the name, age, race and sex of people who sell or donate merchandise and the name and address of people who buy.
Police officers in the pawn section have recorded an average of $20,000 worth of stolen silver, cameras, jewelry, musical instruments and television sets each month since the crackdown began last fall, according to Sgt. Clifton Brown.
Brown added that other police officers recovered between $60,000 and $70,000 worth of stolen silver from two District shops last month, using reports filed by the shops.
It was unknown whether any of the stolen property had been recovered from such shops as those operated by the Junior League, The Salvation Army, Goodwill or Amvets.
No charges have been brought against shop owners so far. Police said they must prove that a storeowner knew he was buying stolen goods before he can be prosecuted.
But many of the stores -- including those operated by the Junior League and Amvets -- have received fines of $25 to $300 for inadequate record-keeping. Eighty percent of the second-hand stores are complying, compared with only about 3 percent before enforcement was stepped up, police said.
The stores are required to file reports by 11 a.m. the next day on all the merchandise they have received, no matter whether it was purchased or donated. They are also required to hold all goods for 15 days before selling them.
Ward of the Junior League Shop said she doubted any thief would try to sell things through that store since potential sellers must wait up to four months for an appointment and then another month before receiving a check for the goods that are sold.
Marion Lipson, of the Once Is Not Enough shop at 4830 MacArthur Blvd., said, "It's of no value for us to write down 15 dresses, children's sunsuits and send them to the police department."
"And if somebody has stolen something, they won't bring it to a consignment shop and wait two months for us to sell it and give us their name and address so we can send them their money," she added.
Several of the second-hand clothes stores have appealed to the D.C. corporation counsel, the city's lawyer, for an exemption from the requirement that they report clothes sales. The stores said, however, that they would continue to report transactions involving furs.
Officials with second-hand stores run by charitable groups like Goodwill said it has been impossible for them to comply with the regulations.
Goodwill's Becker said it would take too many additional employes to do the necessary bookkeeping on the 20 truckloads of goods it receives each day. If the District insists on enforcing the law, he said, Goodwill will close its shops in the District.
Kenneth Cain, director of the two Amvets stores in Washington, echoed Becker, saying, "It would be totally impossible to operate under [the regulations].
Those stores receive more than 10,000 pieces of clothing a month, he said, "We would have to hire twice as many people to process the merchandise."
Fred Litwin, who runs a small used furniture and antique store downtown said he made the reports many years but "since there has been virtually no enforcement [over the decade] we stopped doing it."
Litwin criticized the amount of paperwork required and the rule that the price paid for merchandise and its value be reported, along with the race and sex of customers. "That's private information," he said.
Capt. Jimmy Wilson, head of the special investigation division, which includes the burglary and pawn sections, denied that a crackdown was under way. But, he said, "we are placing a lot more emphasis on stolen property and recovering it," since burglaries in the city are increasing.
There were 13,452 reported burglaries in the city in 1979, up 955 over 1978 and 28,819 larcenies, up 3,075 over the 1978 level. However, burglary is actually lower for the first quarter of 1980 that for the same period last year.
"We have to make sure we can cut off places where they can get rid of these things . . . We want to make sure that the property is not gotten rid of [in the second-hand shops], he said.
Not all the second-hand stores are fighting the rules, though. "We done it (filled out the forms) every day since we've been in business -- 45 years now," said the manager of the Tiny Jewel Box, 1143 Connecticut Ave. NW. n