SFPD pawn software deal was possibly bad bargain 

Pawn stores in California are required to keep track of their sales and provide the results to law enforcement. - COURTESY OF CLEARLIGHT-FLICKR (CC)
  • Courtesy of Clearlight-Flickr (CC)
  • Pawn stores in California are required to keep track of their sales and provide the results to law enforcement.

Computer software used by the Police Department to scour pawn shop and scrap-metal-yard sales for stolen property was acquired in violation of city law and at twice the market price, claims an attorney who says her client was left out of the bidding process.

Beginning in 2006, the SFPD paid Dallas-based LeadsOnline LLC to use its searchable database of secondhand-store sales records until Oct. 31, 2013, records show. It has paid LeadsOnline $465,216 since 2008. The department did not put the contract out to bid, as both the company — which provides similar software to 2,100 other law enforcement agencies nationwide — and the SFPD claimed LeadsOnline was the only company to provide such software.

Those claims are false, said Florida-based attorney Cathy Lerman. She represents Business Watch International, a Canadian company that provides searchable pawn shop record databases to police departments in Virginia, Washington and Michigan, along with Riverside and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The SFPD could have saved The City about $250,000 had it contracted for the software with BWI, Lerman wrote in a Feb. 10 letter sent to the Board of Supervisors, City Attorney’s Office and SFPD. Moreover, the department and LeadsOnline broke city contract law and made false claims when both stated that no other company provided the software, Lerman wrote.

“We question how it is possible that a vendor of SFPD could be awarded a sole-source contract year after year by simply claiming that they have no competitors,” she wrote.

Lerman told The San Francisco Examiner the false claims could lead to a lawsuit, but she will first wait for The City to “clean up its own mess” by putting the contract out to bid.

“Quite frankly, we think the taxpayers of San Francisco are suffering enough,” Lerman said. “There’s no way LeadsOnline could ‘not be aware of’ [Business Watch International], as we’ve been competing against them since 2003.”

LeadsOnline “stands by the integrity of its contract,” company spokesman Lindsay Williams said, directing further questions to the SFPD.

A June memo to police Chief Greg Suhr from Officer Shawn Wallace, who handles the department’s contracts and purchasing, stated that LeadsOnline was the only company with software that allows pawn shops to send in their sales records without changing their own computer setups.

The SFPD was unaware of BWI at the time the contract was signed, police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi said.

“It is possible that in fact BWI may fit our needs, and we will examine that possibility,” Manfredi said, adding that BWI is welcome to bid when the contract comes up next year.

Before signing a sole-source, no-bid contract, city departments are required to file paperwork stating that no other company provides the same service.

Pawn brokers are required by California law to keep track of every sale made and then provide a copy of that list to law enforcement, Manfredi said.

To Google a thief

The San Francisco Police Department spends big on computer software that helps it search pawn shop records for stolen goods.

Contract with LeadsOnline LCC:

2008: $99,108

2009: $99,108

2010: $89,000

2011-13: $178,000

Total: $465,216

Source: SFPD

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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