One Man's Junk

By Dees, Tim | Law & Order, February 2001 | Go to article overview

One Man's Junk


Dees, Tim, Law & Order


One man's junk is another man's treasure. Online auction sites have proven this to an even greater degree than have garage sales or swap meets. Never before has the common man been able to hawk the stuff taking up space in his attic or garage not just to folks driving by, looking for a bargain, but for the whole world to see and bid on.

Police-related items have had a spotted history on major auction sites like eBay. In the early online auction days, people were selling everything from badges in current use to firearms, and there were some obvious legal problems. Federal authorities, already sensitive to the sale of firearms at private gun shows, really got upset over gun sales that crossed state lines, and conceivably across international borders. Departments that found badges identical to those worn by their active duty personnel were also apprehensive, as there was no way to ascertain that their symbols of office were being purchased by a collector, instead of a police impersonator. For this reason, eBay and other online auction sites have placed restrictions on the types of law enforcement merchandise that can be offered for sale on their site and other online auctions have, for the most part, followed suit.

CopAuction.com is an auction site that is devoted exclusively to the offering and sales of police related merchandise. It operates more or less the same way as other online auction sites, but because of the narrow focus of its market, it is considerably less cluttered and complicated than some of the other sites. CopAuction.com is owned and operated by Hendon Publishing.

Online auctions at CopAuction.com work much the same as those on the mainstream sites. Everyone who wants to offer an item for sale or bid on an item is required to register on the site and choose a "nickname" that will be tied to any offers of merchandise or bids made for items. Once registered, you can place any item of merchandise for sale (working firearms and ammunition are prohibited, but badges aren't), or bid on any items offered. Most items specify a minimum bid, or if a bid has already been made, the amount of the bid that must be exceeded if you want the bid to be accepted. All auctions have a set duration, and the highest bidder at the cutoff time and date wins the auction.

You don't have to watch the auction site every minute to see if you have been outbid. If you are outbid, you will get an e-mail message advising you of this, so that you can enter another bid if you're still game. Bids are considered binding legal contracts, and a displeased auction participant may post "negative feedback" in the user's feedback file. The feedback file is the user's online rep, filled with comments from people that the auction member has dealt with previously. Most feedback files are overwhelmingly positive, because a single negative feedback comment is the mark of Cain for an online auction participant. For this reason, and because most people who participate in auctions are basically honest, the vast number of transactions go well, and merchandise is delivered in the condition expected.

CopAuction.com, like many other auction sites, offers an escrow service for large transactions, or when one participant or the other is nervous about things going well. An escrow service requests the money for the sold item from the buyer, and then the seller is instructed to send the item. When the buyer receives the item and finds it to be to his satisfaction, he advises the escrow service and the service releases the funds to the seller, minus a small fee for its trouble.

Items offered for sale are much the same as one might find at a swap meet for cops. In fact, the assortment that I saw at CopAuction.com reminded me of the array of merchandise offered for display at the booths set up near the National Law Enforcement Memorial during Police Week in Washington, DC. The single largest category is police insignia of various types, including full size and miniature badges, pins, shoulder patches and hats.

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