The New York Post is reporting that the New York Police Department has assigned a team of cops to work with Apple on facilitating the return of stolen iOS devices. The move is in response to widespread theft of popular iPhones and wireless-enabled iPads in the city.
The policemen work with the victims or wireless carriers to determine what the IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) number of the device is, and then pass that information on to Apple. The company then responds to the NYPD with the current location of the device. Since the IMEI is part of a device's firmware, even stolen devices that have been activated on another wireless carrier's network can be tracked. Since WiFi-only devices do not have an IMEI, they cannot be located through this method.
According to the Post article, a number of arrests have been made and devices have been recovered from as far away as the Dominican Republic. Many devices are bought second-hand by people unaware that they were stolen. Police have the right to confiscate those devices and return them to the original owners.
The wireless industry will have its own database of stolen smartphones and tablets in late 2013 and is expected to provide automatic blacklisting of those devices. Until that database is implemented, New York residents can rely on the NYPD and Apple partnership.
TUAW readers can easily keep track of their device IMEI by tapping on Settings > General > About, taking a screenshot of the display by holding down the Home button and then pressing the sleep/wake button, and then either printing that screenshot or uploading it to a cloud service like Evernote.