The growing problem of silver, coin and jewelry thefts in Northern Virginia in recent months has inspired a plethora of new laws designed to make it more difficult for thieves to profit from their crimes.
All Northern Virginia jurisdictions have approved some form of regulation over the purchase and sale of such items, and the Virginia General Assembly, which opened its 1981 session this week, will be urged to pass state laws standardizing the regulations and the penalties for violating them.
"I think many of (the area jurisdictions) are in a shakedown period with their ordinances," said Tom Jacks, a deputy city attorney in Alexandria. "There's a crazy-quilt pattern because there are no statewide standards. So you may see some more changes after the General Assembly acts."
Although the local ordinances are similar, all differ somewhat regarding the items covered and the penalties imposed. For instance, Alexandria and the counties of Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William have included coins in their ordinances.
"We have found that coins and stamps are often subject to burglaries because they're so easily resold," said Henry Hudson, commonwealth's attorney for Arlington, where the local ordinance also covers stamps, figurines, paintings, semiprecious stones and electrical equipment or appliances -- unless the appliance are being traded in for new models.
Below is a summary of the ordinances now in effect in Northern Virginia:
With some variations, all the local jurisdictions require dealers who purchase precious metals or gems -- and, in some cases, make loans on them -- to obtain a permit from the police. The fee may vary, according to whether the applicant is an established dealer or an itinerant merchant. Fees range from a low of $10 in Arlington and Alexandria to a high of $300 in Loudoun County. Surety bonds also must be posted; the bond is $5,000, except in Arlington and Alexandria, where it is $10,000.
Except for Loudoun County, all jurisdictions require that dealers obtain and verify the name, age and address of sellers of the regulated items. They must report the information, with a detailed description of the items sold to them, to police within 24 hours. (Loudoun requires only that the dealer keep records available for inspection by authorities.)
Dealers generally are prohibited from buying such items from anyone under 18. (Prince William and Loudound allow purchases from minors if they are accompanied by their legal guardians.)
Most jurisdictions require that dealers keep, in unaltered form, all items sold to them for 15 days. In Prince William and Loudoun, the holding period is five days. In Falls Church, police chief Johnson has the option of requesting that the goods be held an additional seven days, for a total of 22 days.
Except for Alexandria, Northern Virginia jurisdictions excuse a second 15-day waiting period if goods are sold between dealers only. Alexandria is expected to reconsider and may eliminate the requirement in its ordinance.
The penalties for violation in all jurisdictions include a fine and a jail term. The fine in Alexandria is $500; in all other Northern Virginia areas, it is $1,000. The jail terms are one year in Fairfax, Falls Church and Loudoun, six months in Alexandria and Arlington and 30 days in Prince William.