Operation Identification: Taking The Profit Out Of Theft

Operation Identification is a property theft deterrent and recovery technique disseminated through Neighborhood Watch Program groups. It is comprised of ways to inscribe identification numbers on valuables along with window decals that warn potential thieves that the owner’s possessions are marked for recovery.

Local police departments, which usually sanction and coordinate Neighborhood Watch groups, often facilitate marking possessions by loaning devices, such as engraving tools, and teaching residents how and where to mark their valuables.

Neighborhood Watch Program

Neighborhood Watch are organizations of volunteers arranged by the neighborhood. They usually have a hierarchy that includes block supervisors and specific individuals who liaison with police. Members may be required to attend meetings and help organize educational material and sessions around specific crime issues for the general public. The effort got started in New York City in the early 1960s as a way to foster neighborhood cohesion and communication around the issue of crime. Nowadays Neighborhood Watch has expanded to include anti-terrorism concerns and disaster preparedness.

How it’s done

Some police departments offer registries for items that are marked so that they can be traced if recovered during an arrest. Others simply offer their expertise and tools to accomplish the task. It’s important to report thefts and burglaries to police so that they can help to return stolen goods if they’re discovered in the possession of a suspect.

Steps to take:

  • Make a list of valuables and organize any ownership documents such as receipts in a fireproof safe;
  • Find an inconspicuous place to inscribe a unique identification number (your driver’s license number preceded by the two-letter abbreviation for the state is recommended – never use your Social Security number);
  • Document each item in photographs on inventory sheets that are printed out and kept with ownership materials;
  • For small items such as jewelry that cannot be marked, use appraisal documents and photos, and keep secure in a safe deposit box;
  • Check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance for any rebates/incentives or other steps necessary to take in order to make a successful claim if items are stolen;
  • Obtain and display Operation Identification or other anti-theft stickers or decals on a window of your home where people will see it. Neighborhood Watch groups or police may have stickers for those who participate, or they can be ordered online.


Items commonly marked are:

  • computers,
  • game consoles,
  • stereo equipment,
  • televisions,
  • cameras,
  • bicycles,
  • tools,
  • musical instruments, and
  • phones.

Generally, any valuable items that are easily stolen and concealed until they can be sold for cash are at risk. Pawn shops and other reputable resellers are unlikely to accept items that have owner identification marked on them, further reducing the appeal to burglars.

Why participate

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics there were more than 4 million household burglaries annually in the U.S. in recent years. While both violent crimes and property crimes have dropped significantly in the past 25 years, burglaries that rip valued belongings from 15 percent of the population still affect many people.

Only a third of property crimes are reported to authorities each year, and of those, only about 20 percent were solved or “cleared” by police. These figures show that deterrence is worthwhile because it’s 100 percent effective any time a would-be thief chooses another home or vehicle to break into due to the presence of an anti-theft decal displayed.

A California police department that staged opportunities for thieves to steal vehicles and items from vehicles during the busy holiday shopping period found that advertising their efforts lowered the property crime rate both by deterrence and by educating residents about securing their belongings. They claimed a 40 percent reduction in that category of crime due to their efforts.


If you are a victim of burglary or theft:

  1. Call police.
  2. Leave the premises and don’t touch anything until police have visited.
  3. Call your insurance company.
  4. Confer with a handyman or your landlord to repair or replace broken windows or doorframes.
  5. Understand that most insurance claims can be amended if you’re unsure at first of everything that has been taken.
  6. Take steps to “harden” your home against future break-ins as thieves are known to return to the same homes again if they know your schedule, know you will replace valuables that were taken, and have an understanding of where you stash things.