The Montgomery County Council introduced tough legislation yesterday designed to stem the rash of burglaries of silver and gold objects that has been touched off in the last year by spiraling precious metal prices.
The Montgomery measure is more stringent than similar laws introduced recently by other local governments as a response to the rise in burglaries that has been stimulated by market conditions. Sterling silver currently sells for about $15 an ounce and 10-karat gold for about $300 an ounce.
A principal feature of the measure proposed in Rockville yesterday would force dealers who purchase used objects that contain precious metals to store those objects for 15 days. Many dealers melt down the objects as soon as they purchase them, and then sell the metals, making it impossible for police to recover stolen goods.
In addition, the bill would force dealers to send police descriptions of the objects they purchase to enable authorities to compare the descriptions with burglary reports. The dealers also would be required to keep records of the persons they purchased the objects from, including the seller's name, address, drivers license number and physical description. The information on the seller would be available to police who visit the dealer's shop.
The bill would also force dealers to be licensed by the county Office of Consumer Affairs and would prevent dealers from purchasing precious metals from any person under 18 years of age unless accompaned by a parent.
"The bill should have some effect on the number of burglaries because right now it is very easy to dispose of stolen property," said police Lt. Paul Hrapchak of the county crimes against property division, who suggested the bill.
Dealers dislike the bill, saying it would be inconvenient to store the property they purchase for 15 days. "I'm afraid to store that much stuff here," said Michael O'Higgins, owner of the Maryland Coin Exchange in Silver Spring. "My money is safe in the bank but I don't think all that silver would be safe here."
During the past year, the number of burglaries has risen by 35 percent in Montgomery County, with gold and sivler objects the most popular items stolen. Police attribute the increase in such burglaries to the high prices offered lately for gold and silver on the world's commodity market and to the high prices in turn offered by local dealers, many of whom advertise that they will give "instant cash" for gold and silver objects.
In Prince George's and Fairfax counties, the legislative bodies are considering bills that would force dealers to store the metals they purchase for five days -- 10 days less than the Montgomery bill would require.
Like the Montgomery bill, both the Fairfax and the Prince George's bills would require dealers to keep records of persons from whom they purchase objects and descriptions of the items purchased. The bills also would prohibit dealers from buying valuables from juveniles without parental consent.
A District of Columbia law requiring a 15-day holding period is now being challenged in court by dealers who feel the holding period ruins their business.
The Montgomery bill will go to public hearing next month. A date as not been set.