Under Scrutiny: Policing the precious metal act

As early as April 2011 the Commissioner of Police (COP), Mr. Darwin Dottin, in promising to lobby government for legislation to regulate the sale and purchase of precious metals, had identified a correlation between the increase at the time in theft of jewellery from persons and the cash-for-gold trade. The legislature in January responded to his request by passing the Precious Metals and Second Hand Metals Act, 2013, (the Act) making it mandatory for dealers in precious and second hand metals to license their business, failing which they’re exposed to fines up to $50 000.

Thefts of jewellery from persons have, however, continue to escalate, the COP in his last press conference estimating the value of the loss so far this year at $1 million. So much so, he has pleaded with the public to leave their jewellery at home until the situation improves. As to how convincing he has been is left to been seen. Most people, after all, aren’t going to spend hundreds, and in many cases thousands, of dollars on an ostensible good, then to keep it locked away at home or in a safety deposit box in a bank indefinitely. Let’s face it, the police are in no position to tell the public when these thefts or robberies will be brought under control. Moreover, to ask people not to wear their jewellery is to increase the vulnerability of their homes to burglaries. Most thieves aren’t as foolish as some people would want us to believe.

Of course, it is much too soon to test the efficacy of the new legislation. However, it is imperative that the police implement the necessary operational strategies to ensure compliance with the legislation. To this end, the police ought to forge partnerships with the relatively small number of licensed cash-for-gold dealers on the island.
Why have a 10-day waiting period before gold can be disposed of inserted in the legislation if the police aren’t going to compare the gold coming into the hands of the dealers with the description of gold reported stolen to the police? And there is no reason why the police and these dealers can’t have access to a central computer system where all descriptions of gold sold and stolen are stored and retrieved.

The police, too, must also be prepared to use undercover police officers or members of the public to ensure that the dealers themselves are complying with the legislation. It makes good sense to use a member of the public from time to time to make a legitimate sale to see if the requirements of the legislation are being followed. Such person, for example, could make the sale and the police, armed with a photograph and a full description, about 9 days after could enter the establishment and request to see the item. If the dealer in such circumstances is unable to produce it means that he has breached the legislation in that he has disposed of it under 11 days.

Black market

That’s one way of checking the dealers, but what about the black markets? Black markets always exist alongside legitimate markets, and the cash-for-gold trade is no exception. At one point in time there was a drive afoot to illegalise the cash-for-gold trade, but the authorities seem to have understood that the legitimate cash-for-gold dealers aren’t the real problem if their businesses are properly regulated. The black market is, in my view, the most difficult for the force to police, and this is where every member of the force has to rise to the occasion. The known handlers of stolen jewellery in Barbados must be kept on their toes and not given the opportunity to get their spoils to market; the police, customs and immigration must increase their vigilance at air and sea ports; and there must be more cooperation with their regional counterparts. Of utmost importance, members of the public must give the police their full support to help rid the country of this scourge.