Operation Identification


Being caught in the act is a thief's greatest risk and their second highest risk is being caught "red handed" with the incriminating evidence, the property they have stolen. With modern mass-produced appliances and products looking identical, the police have no way of identifying recovered property as stolen goods unless the serial number is available or the item has been engraved with a property owner's unique number. Every year, law enforcement agencies across the country auction millions of dollars worth of recovered lost or stolen property because of the lack of identification. If an item has been engraved, however, the information can be entered into state and national law enforcement computer networks to trace these goods in any matter of seconds and the owner can be identified. This knowledge alone may act as a major deterrent to a potential thief since items that can be traced back to their original owners bring a lower price on the street, making the thief's efforts less rewarding.

Operation Identification is a crime prevention program that promotes the use of electric engraving pencils to engrave an identifying number on selected valuables for identification purposes in case the property is stolen. The program is designed to discourage the theft of valuables. Participating in this program will lessen the likelihood of the property being stolen, but in the event of this happening, the chances of the property being recovered by the police and returned to the owner will increase.

Starting an Operation Identification Program

  • The person responsible for the program should be identified.
  • The recommended number to be engraved onto the property must be determined. The number must be a number easily obtained by the property owner, be permanently traceable back to the property owner and should be acceptable for entry into the FBI's National Crime Information Center computer system for stolen property. Many programs use the drivers license number of the property owner with the two letter abbreviation for the state listed either before or after this number.
  • Neighborhood organizations, clubs and schools should be aware of the program and how it can help them prevent the loss of their property.
  • Engravers can be purchased from local department or hardware stores.
  • Neighborhood Watch groups may want to purchase one single engraver and loan it out to members. Whatever method is employed, an adequate inventory must be maintained of the equipment to insure its return and subsequent reuse.
  • All items should be engraved that might be attractive to a thief.
  • The property should be engraved in a prominent place where the marking will be both readily visible and difficult to cover or remove without the attempt being obvious.
  • Televisions, stereos, VCRs, radios and other electronic equipment can be prominently marked on the back of the chassis or case.
  • Engines and body parts of power driven equipment such as riding mowers and snowmobiles are sometimes exchanged to reduce the risk of identification. Mark both the engine and frame.
  • Clothing and furs can be marked with invisible or indelible ink, or the number can be embroidered on the material.
  • An additional marking should be made in an inconspicuous area on the property.
  • Each engraved item should have a small decal affixed to it showing it is engraved.
  • Property that cannot be engraved, such as antiques, jewelry, coins, silver, china, etc. should be photographed in detail.

The property owner should maintain an inventory of engraved items, including a description of the property, the model number, the serial number, color, cost and the location of Operation Identification markings. The inventory list should be kept in a safe place. To download a Sheriff's Office Inventory List please use the link above. Photographs and/or videos of the property should be kept along with your inventory list. These will not only help you with criminal incidents, but will also help with insurance claims after a natural disaster. 

Operation Identification stickers can be placed on windows and doors to inform a potential burglar that you are determined to protect your belongings. If the homeowner has taken the time to mark their valuable, a burglar can assume that they have also taken other security measures as well. To the burglar, this translates into increased risk and they move onto another target. 

Will Operation Identification Really Deter a Thief? 

Some people have questioned the effectiveness of Operation Identification program. Others believe that if a thief knows the property in a home is clearly marked the thief is unlikely to select that home as a target. Further, it is believed that marked property has a reduced resale value to the "fence" making an Operation Identification participant's property less attractive. Another very valuable benefit of Operation Identification is the recording of property descriptions and serial numbers at the time of engraving. This information is very vital in order to enter the stolen item into the NCIC computer system and to aid I identification in case of recovery. Finally another beneficial advantage of Operation Identification is that it sensitizes those persons who participate in it to good security practices and measures. The individual who participates in this program will usually be the same person who practices other good crime prevention habits such as being careful with keys, locking doors and windows, securing property, etc.