Police look online to help investigations

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When it comes to property thefts, Kalispell police are hitting the Internet to look for tips online.

In two months, the department’s use of LeadsOnline has led to the recovery of a gun stolen in 2008, several stolen bicycles and about $18,000 in stolen jewelry.

“We’ve already had three great successes,” Police Chief Roger Nasset said of his department’s use of LeadsOnline.

The Plano, Texas-based company compiles millions of transaction reports from businesses around the United States that are required to record their daily dealings for local law enforcement.

That includes pawnshops, secondhand dealers, gold buyers, pharmacies and scrap yards. LeadsOnline compiles their transactions in a cross-jurisdictional database that can be searched quickly and easily by law enforcement for items or for people selling them.

“If we have an expensive piece of jewelry stolen, we can type that in and it will continually monitor to see if that is pawned somewhere, and not just in Kalispell or Flathead County,” Nasset said.

“With the recent rash of thefts, we find 90 percent are committed by a small group of people. There’s not a lot of people stealing, there’s a small group stealing a lot. So if their name pops up, this lets us go further in an investigation.”

Nasset learned about LeadsOnline from a vendor at a Montana Association of Police Chiefs conference. He thought it might be a good way to try and investigate some thefts Kalispell has experienced.

The Kalispell Police Department signed up for a free one-month trial with the company and decided to subscribe to the service the following month.

“It’s $2,500 a year,” Nasset said. “Our budget isn’t huge, but if you consider it, in the first two months we’ve already recovered $20,000 of goods. If it provides that service and helps retrieve stolen property, it’s well worth it.”

Kalispell’s municipal codes already requires pawnshops and dealers of secondhand goods to log their transactions and furnish that information to police. Detectives have been out trying to get those local businesses to report to LeadsOnline, Nasset said.

“[Detective] Scott Warnell has been to all of the pawnshops in Kalispell and offered the system to them. They found it won’t be a huge time requirement for them, and they don’t want to take in stolen property, either,” Nasset said.

On its website, LeadsOnline prides itself as an easier, more efficient and free way for businesses to record their transactions and make them available to law enforcement.

Nasset said he hopes to see Kalispell, other cities in the valley and Flathead County adopt ordinances requiring applicable business to report transactions to LeadsOnline. “If it was countywide, it would be much more effective,” he said.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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