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Renton, other South King police agencies, join new property-tracking program

Renton officer and TrackMole CEO Shawn Tierney introduces the program at Renton City Hall. - Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter
Renton officer and TrackMole CEO Shawn Tierney introduces the program at Renton City Hall.
— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

In February of 2013, Renton police officer Shawn Tierney took a burglary call at the home of a retired couple who was moving to Arizona. Burglars had stolen a mower and then returned a few hours later to take more than $50,000 in machinery and tools from a workshop.

The homeowners had video surveillance and officers felt they had a good chance at getting the merchandise back for the couple.

When Tierney asked about serial numbers, the woman was excited at first, but then began to cry, telling the officer that she had shredded the file containing the numbers as they were preparing to move.

“We deal with that all the time,” Tierney said this week.

But the incident got him thinking.

“It’s ridiculous in today’s world of connectivity and technology that people can’t store this anywhere,” he said.

Soon after, the idea for TrackMole, a new web-based, serial-number database began to form. The database is accessible by police agencies and individuals and is designed to allow property owners, those who find an item, and police to track serial numbers.

Tierney called the inability for police to return good to their owners a “plague” but said the issue is not just one for police. At airports, for example, thousands of items are left behind, only to be discovered missing upon arrival at their destination.

According to Tierney, there are 150 black Dell laptops at SeaTac airport that can not be identified to be returned to their owners since the Transportation Security Administration will not turn on a computer or take the time to try and finds its owner.

Using TrackMole, an agency who finds an item can simply run its serial number. If the owner has registered the item, they will receive an immediate email informing them the serial number of one of their things has been searched, which could tip them that they’ve forgotten it and head back to security before their computer winds up in a pile with others.

“TrackMole allows the property to find the people,” Tierney said.

The City of Renton last week joined with the cities of Auburn, Federal Way, Kent and Tukwila to partner with TrackMole, providing a new way for police to return property to individuals.

“This is another tool that we will have to better serve our residents and victims of crime in recovering lost or stolen property,” Renton Mayor Denis Law said in a press release.

According to the release, nationwide, more than 12,000 laptops are left in airports each week, $30 billion in cellphones were lost last year and another $700 million in bicycles stolen. Estimates show that fewer than 5 percent of owners record the serial numbers to their property, which is the main way police can identity and return goods.

“It really is crazy when you start looking at it,” Tierney said.

The hope is that citizens will utilize the free service to register their serial numbers. In the past, numbers were kept in files or safes, as in one story Tierney tells, and are difficult to access, if they are available at all. Tierney said the faster police can identify a stolen item, the better chance it has of being returned, something TrackMole can help with.

If people use it.

“The key to it, like any service like this, is the users have to participate and we’re getting a lot of it,” Tierney said.

“Every 5.1 seconds a theft occurs, and a burglary happens every 14.6 seconds,” said Renton City Council President and former police officer Don Persson in a press release. “We urge you to use this free service and help us help you.”

Cities and police agencies are also signing up for the free service. So far, 38 cities around the country have signed up in the past three months.

Tierney said businesses like movie theaters can also use the service to try and identify lost items. Though he did not give a name, Tierney said one local theater has 72 dead devices in a bin that they can’t return to the owners. Using TrackMole, the owners can be notified that their item has been found.

Tierney said he also hopes that pawn shops will use the service as a way to check to see if items brought into the store have been stolen.

To register property, visit trackmole.com. For more information on the program, visit www.rentonwa.gov.

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