SCOTT SIMON, host:
Going to a police auction used to mean an early morning trip to some warehouse or parking lot where you could rummage through boxes of cell phones, stereo speakers or TVs. But finding a steal is easier than it used to be.
PropertyRoom.com works like eBay, only the items on these auctions have been seized by police departments all over the country. From athletic socks to real estate - the site sells just about everything.
Tom Lane, a former police officer, is the founder and chairman of PropertyRoom.com. He joins us from San Clemente, California.
Mr. Lane, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. TOM LANE (Chairman, PropertyRoom.com): Hi. Good morning. Thank you for having us on the show.
SIMON: Is this hot stuff?
Mr. LANE: Well, you know, the police department comes into this property of -through seizures, through found property, through evidence from cases, et cetera - and putting on the Internet was just a move to the 21st century actually.
SIMON: So now, when the Philadelphia police have something to auction off it can be put up for bid nationally, someone in California can buy it.
Mr. LANE: Yeah. Previously, the auction - held locally. You may have 50 people show up at the auction. And if you took a listing of everybody who was there, or where they lived, they all live within five, 10, 15, 20 miles of that police department, so all of the stuff will be sold right back there. We've taken one department, and we spread it out into all 50 states.
SIMON: What's on the site?
Mr. LANE: You know, a lot of jewelry, a lot of bicycles, a lot of electronics, a lot of laptops, a lot of sporting good equipment. If you buy Rolex from us, you're getting a real Rolex because we've verified that it's a real Rolex. We may even have repaired it. So when it shows up, it's going to be in working order and it's going to be real. It's not going to be a phony watch because we destroyed the phony items that we receive.
SIMON: Do you know of any instances where somebody has bought back stuff that was stolen from them?
Mr. LANE: Well, they don't have to buy it back. If they can find the item and they can identify it on our site, we will actually stop the auction - and we've done that a number of times - and verified that the item belongs to the individual and returned it to them, free of charge.
SIMON: Should people feel queasy about either wearing a watch that was on the wrist of a drug baron or a ring that belonged to somebody's grandmother?
Mr. LANE: The police department do a wonderful job of returning the stuff, 80, 85 percent of it goes back okay. They go out of their way to try and locate the rightful owner and they can't, and by law in every state, this property that cannot be returned becomes public property and have to be auctioned off.
SIMON: So the interest of the local police department is that they have spread the number of participants greatly.
Mr. LANE: Their interest is always returning the item, okay. That's their first interest. Second interest is once they no longer need it, they need to move it out of their warehouse because with the new DNA evidence, et cetera, they have to keep other evidence a lot longer in their property rooms.
Mr. LANE: So the stuff that they don't need, they need to move quickest.
SIMON: What's the most peculiar item you think you've seen?
Mr. LANE: We do get some unusual items like we got an aboriginal boomerang, okay, and we got an electric (unintelligible) from outside of a supermarket. We got a Persian rug one time, which came to us as a miscellaneous household item that we had appraised that turned out to be a 125-year-old antique carpet that was worth about $22,000.
SIMON: And so the police departments get the proceeds?
Mr. LANE: No. In almost all cases, the money goes back to the general fund of the city.
Mr. LANE: So that goes back to fix some streetlights and potholes and buying fire engines and et cetera. We're recycling the money a second or third time around for the cities.
SIMON: Tom Lane, founder and chairman of PropertyRoom.com.
Mr. Lane, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. LANE: Scott, thank you very much.