Pawnshop touts its anti-crime initiative

FORT WORTH, TX: The nation's largest pawnshop chain and a Dallas software company have hired Fort Worth's Witherspoon Advertising and PR to promote a system that helps police officers track stolen property.

FORT WORTH, TX: The nation's largest pawnshop chain and a Dallas software company have hired Fort Worth's Witherspoon Advertising and PR to promote a system that helps police officers track stolen property.

Cash America and Leads Online have pooled their resources to mount a media relations campaign touting an internet database that allows law enforcement officers to search for missing items across jurisdictional lines.

The law requires pawnshops to make certain transactional information available to police, but that process has traditionally been paper-based, and "like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Cash America's VP of PR Mary Jackson. Many large police departments have developed their own electronic systems, but Leads Online says its subscription service can save money and facilitate data standardization. "It takes them out of the database-management business and into the law-enforcement business," Jackson said.

Cash America has used the system for over a year, but Leads Online VP Andy Thomas said concerns about domestic security now make the time right for a PR push to show how pawnshops and other second-hand merchandise dealers cooperate with law enforcement.

State governments are also grappling with issues of privacy and standardization regarding law-enforcement databases, Jackson noted. "We're trying to frame the debate," she said. The Leads Online system provides police information they need to solve crimes, but limits how it can be used by requiring specific case numbers in order to log on, she added.

Witherspoon will launch the six-month campaign in December as a pilot in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but will also seek national trade and mainstream news placements, said Witherspoon PR director Heather Senter. Police-officer testimonials will be featured.

Cash America, based in Fort Worth, wanted to work with a local agency, and considered two others before picking Witherspoon, Jackson said. The chain operates more than 400 stores in the US, UK (as Harvey & Thompson), and Sweden (as Svensk Pantbelining).

This project marks its first major PR campaign.

The Leads Online system is currently being used at more than 400 pawnshops nationwide, including many not owned by Cash America. By the end of the third quarter, the system catalogued some 14.5 million items, Jackson said.

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