Serial numbers key to returning stolen property to owners

By Tesina Jackson

February 14, 2019

When thieves steal, the victims want justice — but in most cases, the property is never recovered because the owner doesn’t know the serial numbers.

Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said for approximately 75 percent of theft reports the sheriff’s office receives, the owner has not jotted down the serial numbers.

“Always record your serial numbers,” he said. “We have a lot higher recovery rate, a lot higher success rate, a lot higher solve rate on reports where people know their serial numbers.”

Even when a thief sometimes removes a serial number from a stolen item, Chennault said, there’s always a hidden serial number.

If the property owner does not know a serial number, the chances of finding a stolen item are very slim.

When the victim discovers property has been stolen, taking immediate action can make a difference.

“It’s important to fill out a report as soon as possible,” said Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King. “Time is not our friend in stolen property cases.”

Other than providing serial numbers, it is helpful to also supply law enforcement officers with photos and a clear description of the stolen item. Most larger items – such as tools, electronics, tractors, trailers, vehicles and firearms – will have serial numbers, while items such as jewelry and clothing typically don’t.

“That’s how we know if we find your stuff,” Chennault said. “We have databases we can search for property that has been pawned. That’s how we can verify that’s your stuff.”

It’s important to have serial numbers so authorities can check databases such as LeadsOnline, which helps authorities access transactions from businesses like pawn shops.

“We’ve gotten a lot of hits on pawn shops outside of Tahlequah that have stolen property,” King said.

King added that he would like to help create a city ordinance that would require all Tahlequah pawn shops to enter their transactions onto a database.

According to a 2012 study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 40 percent of the time, burglars head to a pawn shop to make a quick profit.

“That’s the most help a victim can give us, is to provide serial numbers,” Chennault said. “There are so many databases out there now. Pawn shops in Oklahoma have a database. Their computer system will dump into a database so we can go in and search how many times someone pawned something and what they pawned.”

If a victim believes he knows who stole his property, authorities must still have probable cause to obtain a search warrant from a judge to enter a residence to search. If an item is recovered, authorities sometimes take custody of the property until the closure of the case.