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On the Block



At last weekend's police auction, you could have bought guitars, cameras, baby shoes, beach towels, a jackhammer, car stereos, DVD players, laptops, and a saddle.In fact, the only thing they didn't have for sale, according to Lt. Richard Borgers, was "the horse to go with it."

At its first property-room auction in four years -- and the largest in recent memory -- the Memphis Police Department sold 10 percent of the unneeded evidence and found property it had warehoused and netted the city about $60,000. Held in the north side of The Pyramid, it could have been the world's safest garage sale or another Wonders exhibit: "Hidden Treasures of the MPD."

"Periodically, we have to do a sale to clear out the property room," said property-room manager Borgers. "It was getting full."

The department had not held a surplus sale for the past few years because of property-room misconduct. Sixteen people were indicted in a theft of drugs and money, and though the case didn't involve consumer goods, MPD wasn't taking any chances.

"We had to do a complete inventory to see what was missing. We needed to tighten the ship," said Borgers.

Looking at the items on the auction block -- making up about 2,000 property-room receipts -- one might ask how exactly MPD found itself with leather couches still wrapped in plastic, or a bedroom suite, or a brand-new dishwasher.

"A lot of times," said Borgers, "we get items through credit-card fraud, or they're bought with bad checks. The finance company makes the decision that they don't want to come and get it."

Other items might fall off the back of the proverbial truck.

"We'll catch someone walking down the street with a shopping cart full of stuff. As soon as they see police, they'll make a break for it and run, and you're left with the cart," said Borgers.

Still other items are turned over by the thieves themselves.

"The police department sets up a phony pawn shop to catch people bringing in stolen items," said Borgers. "We did that a few years ago."

Each item was checked to make sure its corresponding court case had been disposed and that every attempt had been made to locate its rightful owner. However, there was a chance that someone might recognize their own stolen items.

"We'll have officers here, and if we're able to, we'll pull up their report and verify that it's their item," he said before the auction. "It's so important to put your Social Security number or your name on things."

He gestured to the rows of televisions, 150 in all.

"Just looking around, you can see ... we probably have 50 19" TVs. We might have 12 Magnavoxes that all look the same. If you don't know the serial numbers or you haven't put your name on it, it makes our job impossible."

And even though MPD plans to hold another auction in about six months, the cop shop probably won't pose any serious threats to other retailers.

When an item preview began at 8 a.m. Saturday, a line of about 300 people snaked out the doors of The Pyramid and into the parking lot. By the time the auction began at 9 a.m., the line to get in was just as long.

Potential buyers who had gotten inside kept leaving frustrated. One man tried to warn shoppers still in line: "It ain't worth it," he said. "There's a lot of stuff, but it ain't worth it."

With all the grumbling near the ticket landing, many people simply gave up and stepped out of line. And then there were those who stayed. One middle-aged man who had been in line since 8:15 -- but didn't get to the registration booth until 9:30, half an hour after the auction started -- said he didn't want to leave.

"I feel like I'm invested," he said. "We've been standing in line for so long."

Once the auction began, buyers couldn't carefully view the items. Actually, it was hard to view anything at all. When eager bargain hunters finally made it into The Pyramid, they found the auction space crammed to capacity.

Over 1,300 people registered to bid, and about 4,000 people actually attended the sale.

"It was slow getting in," Borgers admitted. "The auction company never anticipated the number we had. They only brought 600 to 700 registration forms. They had to start making them."

Despite the frustrations, Borgers called the event "a complete success."

A black baby-grand piano sold for $3,750, the highest amount of the auction. A few boxes of Bowflex equipment -- sold as one lot -- brought $3,000.

It turns out that sometimes, at least for the MPD and the city, crime does pay.

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