Program helps people recover lost, stolen items

MARYSVILLE ­– How would you like to know your cell phone had been found even before you realized it was lost or stolen?

The Marysville Police Department offers a link on its website to a program called TrackMole. Residents can register the serial numbers to items they own on that site. If the item is then lost or stolen it can be traced back to the owner.

Police and other city departments, schools and businesses are showing interest in TrackMole. Currently, about 95 percent of items lost or stolen are never returned to their owners.

“I’d like to turn that around,” said Shawn Tierney, the Renton police officer who invented TrackMole, which uses the same security system as Netflix and other companies.

Tierney knows the first question people will ask is how secure is the site? He said he would never say it would be impossible, but it is unlikely.

“Drugs and property go together like crazy,” he said. “Drug addicts have little skill. It’s a crime of opportunity.”

Tierney said robbers look for areas that are unlit, and they try to sneak in and take things. They are not on computers trying to hack.

And hackers, they are going after the big bucks, like Target, etc.

“The people who are good at hacking go after financial institutions,” Tierney said.

Even so, there are security measures. When people sign up, they don’t have to put in their address or phone number. A name and email are all that is required, along with a secure password. So if the system was hacked, robbers wouldn’t know where to find the property.

Don’t trust police? Tierney thought of that, too. If an officer types in a serial number all that comes up is that item, not an inventory of items the person has listed on TrackMole.

Still not convinced? Tierney said many people won’t sign up because they don’t think they ever will become a victim of crime. But everyone has lost something. Billions of dollars in laptops are left at airports, for example.

However, people find it almost impossible to collect lost items because they don’t have serial numbers written down anywhere. That fact also hurts people’s chances of collecting insurance money on lost items.

TrackMole helps solve that problem, too. As a result, many businesses and school districts are interested in the program.

Marysville detective Craig Bartl, who helped bring the program to town, said the program would work great in schools because students are always losing cell phones, bicycles, etc. He said MPD wants to discuss using the program with school resource officers.

Tierney gave an example of how it could help schools. Let’s say two students are fighting over a cell phone, Tierney said. If the phone is registered with TrackMole the district would know whose phone it is, and who should be expelled for trying to steal it.

Also, imagine the good will if a person leaves a laptop at Starbucks, for example, he said. If it’s listed on TrackMole, the Starbucks employee who picked it up honestly can call police and the owner can be tracked down before he gets back to the office. Right now, Starbucks is taking a beating in the internet world from people who have lost items there because it can’t give items back without proof it’s theirs, Tierney said.

TrackMole also is a powerful tool for police. Tierney said he and every other officer hates when they spot someone in the middle of the night with a car full of items that police know were stolen. But without proof, they have to let them go.

“If we can’t prove it’s stolen they get to keep it,” Tierney said.

The next day, when someone calls police and says their back window was broken into and they are missing a TV, it’s too late to track the culprit down.

Imagine the surprise if that same person was called that morning and told your house was broken into, but we found your TV that was registered on TrackMole. We were able to find it last night and therefore we were able to make an arrest, Tierney said.

Bartl said TrackMole forces people to inventory their property, which is a smart thing to do.

“People are not compelled to do it” because they don’t think they will be crime victims, Tierney said.

It also gives them a sense of security because they have a much better chance of recovering items important to them.

Citizens find stuff all the time and bring it to us, Bartl said.

“The ultimate goal for us is to help our community get their items back. If it leads to an arrest or solves a crime that’s a bonus,” he added.

Tierney said he worked in law enforcement in the late 1980s then tried another career. When he returned in 2004, there still was that same disconnect between property owners and police.

“People would find property, but we didn’t know who it belonged to,” Tierney said.

The Renton officer obviously is a fan of his invention.

“It saves time, improves community relations, improves officer morale, takes a bite out of the black market, saves money …,” he said, adding that TrackMole is in 52 cities since its start April 1.

He said TrackMole also helps reduce black market purchases on places such as Craigslist and pawn shops, which now will be able to know if an item is stolen.

Tierney said 80 percent of people do the right thing and try to find owners of found items. So everybody should inventory their items on TrackMole “just in case” you lose something.

“You have a 100 percent better chance of getting it back,” he said.


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