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Retrieving stolen property has always been a challenge for police departments.

Computer science and specialized software are making the job a little easier. Now, a spin-off program makes it easier for the general public should they become victims of theft.

ReportIt, called a “citizen property inventory service,” has been introduced by the Huntsville Police Department. With the holiday season approaching and with people acquiring new personal property, police officials are encouraging residents to take advantage of the system.

I can say without a doubt we’re recovering stuff with this product that we’d  have never recovered before.”

ReportIt is a facet of LeadsOnline, a national investigative service used by HPD and some 4,000 other departments, connecting them with each other and with pawn shops, second-hand stores, scrap metal recyclers and other entities to facilitate tracking stolen property.

ReportIt is a secure database where users can register serial numbers, photos, scanned receipts and descriptions at no cost.

According to Rodney White of HPD, “It is completely safeguarded.” It can only be accessed after the user logs on to permit investigators to retrieve pertinent information.

“It’s completely secure,” says Jordan West of LeadsOnline. “The only way anybody can access your account is if you give them the password.”

White, a retired HPD officer who now works part-time in the Criminal Investigations Division, recalls “being a cop for 20 something years and telling people to write down serial numbers and keep records. This is an easy way to do that.”

“It’s something that people don’t think about until it’s too late,” says West.  “This helps police find property easier with more information. You may have a type of TV stolen. But if you can give police a serial number, maybe any markings on it, you have a better chance to get it back.”

LeadsOnline provides network of connectivity

The larger entity of LeadsOnline has long been paying dividends for HPD and other departments.

“I can say without a doubt we’re recovering items with this product that we’d never have recovered before,” White said.

He noted an example of property stolen recently from a Huntsville residence. It was discovered last week in Birmingham. Without the connectivity between departments, it may have never been returned to the owner.

In years past, HPD wasn’t able to efficiently connect with pawn shops and second-hand stores in even nearby neighborhoods. That was no secret to thieves, who simply make sure they went outside of the city limits to cash in their haul.

Testimonies on the LeadsOnline site praise the system for recovering everything from stolen iPads to auto parts to a $30,000 violin.

Such modernization is part of the goal of Chief Mark McMurray in centralizing investigative work in the CID building, the former Seldon Center.

Utilizing such digital tools “means we’re up to 2017 standards,” McMurray said. “We’re constantly looking at the latest technology to identify how we can use it to become more efficient, ultimately helping to create a safer community.”