Etch It to Protect It

The 77th Precinct offers an easy way to increase the chances of getting back stolen cell phones, computers and even cars.


Prospect Heights' 77th Precinct wants you to know there’s one way to make it much easier to make sure stolen property ends up back where it belongs.

Etch it!

Etching is the process of getting a unique set of numbers permanently placed on your valuables.

The best part? It’s free!

The NYPD is using a program they call “Operation Identification” to focus on etching items that are tempting to thieves, such as smartphones, laptops, bicycles and cars.

Then, if an item is recovered, police have a way to get it back to you and prosecute for the theft, said Deputy Inspector Elvio Capocci at the 77th Precinct's Community Council meeting Monday night. Often officers will arrest someone for one crime, but discover other potenitally stolen items in their possession.

"If we lock up somebody for something else and he has three phones on him, there’s really no way of knowing whose phones they are unless they have the etching," Capocci said. He added that there are phone tracking applications you can download to your smartphone and that several phones have been recovered that way, .

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, , and are stolen just about every week in the precinct, and there has also been a rash of thefts in the Prospect Heights area in the past few months of . are also a popular target. 

Each process works a little differently, but the point is the same: to give the police a way to identify what belongs to you if they come across it once it’s stolen.

There are several ways to get your item etched:

  • Call the 77th Precinct's crime prevention officer at (718) 735-0658 to make an appointment.
  • Or, because the program is available at all precints, call the 78th Precint, conveniently located at 6th Avenue and Bergen Street at (718) 636-6410 to make an appointment there. 
  • Having a community meeting? The 77th Precinct's crime prevention officer will do the etching at the gathering.  
  • Small electronics etching is also provided at the Transit Police District stations at the Columbus Circle, Union Square, and Hoyt/Schermerhorn subway stations.

Wherever you get it done, the 3- to 5-minute process is the same. If it’s a phone or other small electronic item, officers will use an invisible Ultra Violet ink to etch a unique identification number onto the device.

Officers will mark it in two places (typically either the front or back and somewhere inside). They will also record the serial number. This information is entered into a database along with your contact information, making it easier to return your device if it’s recovered after a robbery.

If you’d like to ID your car, the Crime Prevention Officers will use an engraver to etch a unique visible Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on all of the car’s parts. Thieves, preferring less traceable targets that are easy to sell, will hopefully see the VIN and stay away. If the VIN doesn’t work to prevent the theft, it will help police identify a stolen car as yours, even if it’s split up for parts.

They also offer a less subtle option to potential theives after the car has been etched: a red and white sticker with the words "Warning" and "Stop Thief" along with a note that the car can be tracked by the NYPD. 

Don’t want to visibly mark your car? Precincts also offer Ultra Violet VIN inscription on your airbags.

For bikes, the process is similar. Officers etch a visible ID number on the frame, and they also attach a permanent sticker that says the bike is registered with the NYPD.

Etching and registering your bike makes sure that you’ll be able to reclaim your recovered bike.

Capocci urged community groups to invite the 77th's crime prevention officer, Frankie Lora, to their next gathering for on-site etching.

"Officer Lora can come out to the meeting and do etching on the phone. There's also VIN etching, computer etching, bicycles—you can register all of these things," he said. "It’s a great service, if you want to take advantage of it—and it’s completely free."

Joanna Shaw Flamm and Zach Haberman contributed reporting.

NothinLikeABklynGirl June 12, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Officer Lora is great! We had him come do a free security survey on our condo building, and then he came back to do a presentation to the owners on his recommendations and on general crime in the neighborhood and safety suggestions. He's very informative.


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