As Apple Releases iPhone 5, NYPD Launches Operation ID

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As the iPhone 5 hit stores Friday, the NYPD asked Apple aficionados to sign up for "Operation ID," a program aimed at helping police address a recent surge in smartphone thefts.

The idea is simple: Give police the serial number for your new phone, and they'll make sure the phone is returned to you if it's stolen and then recovered by officers.

"The theft of Apple phones and other hand-held devices drove the spike in robberies and larceny this year," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement. "Operation ID will help those whose property is lost or stolen to get it back."

At the Apple store in SoHo, a community affairs officer  wearing a blue polo shirt handed out sign-up sheets to hundreds of people waiting to buy the iPhone 5, like graphic designer Eslie Kim.

"I think if you have the technology to do it, to track your phone, why not?" she said.

Two years ago, her phone was stolen right out of her hand in front of her apartment building in midtown Manhattan. Like most of the people WNYC spoke with, she was eager to register her new phone with the NYPD.

But not everyone thought it was necessarily a job for police.

"It's about time that all the carriers actually take command of the fact that they have unique IDs with their phones, and when phones are stolen, they should be off the market," said product manager Kaushal Sampat as he waited in line.

The NYPD plans to promote the registry program at 21 Apples stores Friday, including six in the city. The department also stationed officers at seven Verizon and eight AT&T stores.

Operation ID is not just for the iPhone 5 or Apple products. The NYPD will take the serial number for any and all "valuable portable electronics." Officers can even engrave a special serial number that starts with the letters "NYC" on devices, though the service is not available for iPhones.

The program has one potential drawback for tech-savvy smartphone owners: You can't register your devices online. Instead, you'll have to fill out a paper form at one the designated store, or visit a police precinct.