Engravings used to track stolen electronic devices

Monday, December 24, 2007 | 2:20 p.m. CST; updated 1:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

COLUMBIA — With Christmas gifts pouring in, representatives of the Columbia Police Department say now is the best time for owners of electronic devices to have them engraved to deter thieves.

Operation Identification, a long-standing crime prevention program, uses electric engraving pencils to etch a unique identifying number on selected valuables. The information is entered into state and national law enforcement computer networks.

According to a news release from the Police Department, the idea is to make it harder for thieves to sell stolen goods. If the police find an engraved item, they can immediately notify the owner. Not only that, but the thief could be caught red-handed.

“Do you have serial numbers on all the goods in your house? Probably not,” said Sgt. John White, who heads the Columbia Police Department’s Community Services Unit. “You need to go through your house and find out what can be engraved and what can’t.”

Owners should engrave all items that might seem attractive to a thief, such as televisions, firearms and tools, White said. The engraving should be in a prominent place, where the marking is clearly visible and difficult to remove.

But items susceptible to damage, such as a computer hard drive, either should not be engraved or should be engraved in a place where it won’t be damaged, White said.

Owners should record property descriptions and serial numbers at the time of engraving and file it in a safe place. Owners should also photograph in detail all other items that cannot be engraved, such as jewelry, coins, silver and so on, according to the news release.

The Police Department has engravers the public can use for free by calling 874-7405, White said.

Owners also can arrange for an inventory form and a window sticker identifying them as participants in Operation Identification.

University Police also has an engraving program. Laptop computers owned by students and faculty are particularly vulnerable to theft, and that led to the department’s laptop registration program that includes engraving services. For more information about it, go to

Operation Identification is used by police agencies nationwide. The Web site of the Crime Prevention Unit in Tempe, Ariz., for instance, says that Operation Identification dramatically increased the chances of preventing burglaries and theft.

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