Many people are victims of theft; personal property is stolen and very seldom ever returned. Unfortunately this is a sad fact! The primary reason recovered property cannot be recovered by the owner is that it is not readily identifiable as that specific item in question and not the thousands of similar pieces that were manufactured. There are many ways to identify property as belonging to you but generally this requires a written record or photographs.

The following is a brief description of a property Inventory Record that you can copy from this web site or create yourself with any word processing program or spread sheet on your computer or as in the old days in a ledger book. Regardless the method you choose there are certain data that must be included in order for this specific item to be entered as stolen property in the Law Enforcement Computer System or NCIC (National Crime Information Center). Let’s keep it simple and start off with an item just about everyone has in their home. A television set.

# ITEM MAKE MODEL SERIAL NUMBER COST PHOTO COMMENTS
1 TV SET SONY STV01547 S-3456345 $647.99 YES 54” Flat Screen With Remote
  • #: Refers to the number of the item on the inventory sheet
  • Item: TV Set
  • Make: Sony is the manufacturer
  • Serial number: Every item sold in the U.S. is required to have a serial number, many are a paper tag
  • Cost: This determines the total amount of loss for determination of the type of crime or for insurance purposes
  • Photo: A picture is worth a thousand words great evidence
  • Comments:  Other identifying info, marks, scratches etc. that may help to identify the item.

This information is entered into a law enforcement computer as soon as possible after the theft.  If you have this information on an inventory sheet you can make a copy for the investigating officer or let him/her copy it.  The sole purpose of this information is to catch the crooks and recover your property.

Your inventory list of personal property could easily run to fifty or more entries when you consider, jewelry (photo’s), tools, appliances, guns, fishing gear, camping gear, pets with chips, art, watches, heirlooms, and other objects of value.  Granted it may take some time but then if stolen the chances of you getting the property back is much better.

How does this work in real life particularly with those departments that does not have an ‘ABBEY’ (NCIS)?  Upon completion of the report by the Patrol Deputy the list of stolen property is entered into the computer.  In the meantime a Deputy in a nearby county stops a car for a traffic violation and notices a TV Set in the back seat along with a bunch of stuff.  He checks the serial number of the TV Set and learns it was stolen just recently from your home.  Bingo, he makes the arrest and impounds the car and all the ‘stuff’ in the car.  Most of this property will not be in the computer since the serial numbers were never recorded by the property owner but maybe several items are found from other burglaries.  This is normally the time that a Detective gets involved and inventories all the property and starts checking other cases for similar losses and since this suspect was found in another county, he checks cases in that county through one of Detectives assigned there.

Many times when serial numbers of property are not available a witness may have recorded the license plate of the vehicle involved and or a partial description of the suspect.  The same scenario can be applied again.

Contrary to what you see on TV, the investigation of a crime is not completed and the crook arrested in one hour and convicted before the next show comes on.  It does happen from time to time which results in a bunch of deputies walking around with big grins on their faces.  Normally it can take days or weeks.

Statistically solving a burglary/theft occurs in approximately 10% of the cases filed nationwide.

In communities with Neighborhood Watch, alert neighbors, concerned citizens who protect their homes from crooks and keep good records on their possessions that also have Deputies who are active in the community, knowledgeable of the crime problems and thorough in their investigations the solution rate can be as high as 60%.

Deputies cannot do the job by themselves.  It also takes a good partner, the concerned citizen. Working together we can create a strong team that will keep our communities safe.

Doug Henderson, Retired, Detective Sergeant
San Diego Police Department
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department