Chesterfield County Police have initiated a SmartWater program to protect homes and businesses
across the County. So what is SmartWater, and how does it help catch a thief?
Origins in Great Britain
Known as SmartWater CSI, this revolutionary process of identifying objects or thieves uses traceable liquids that law enforcement can detect using black lights. Each solution is unique to a particular household or business and can stay viable for up to 5 years once employed.
SmartWater was developed in the early 1990s by brothers Mike and Phil Cleary. Phil was a retired British police officer who had formed his own private security firm, and Mike was a chemist. Mike developed the technology while Phil created the deterrence and business strategies.
The technology won several awards in its early years, including the Prince of Wales Award for Innovation in 1996 and a Millennium Product award in 2000. Phil was awarded a Fellowship from the Royal Society of arts for his contributions to crime reduction as well.
The term “traceable liquid” came to be sued to describe SmartWater and similar forensic coding substances.
How it works
SmartWater is a clear, harmless solution that can be dabbed onto an object or sprayed onto a criminal using a specially designed sprayer installed in a home or business. When dabbed onto an item that is later stolen and recovered by police, the original owner can be determined after a lab tests it for its signature formula.
There are millions of binary sequences that ensure the uniqueness of each SmartWater used. Each Smartwater formula contains millions of tiny fragments that give the water a unique “SIN” (SmartWater Identification Number) that can be registered in a national police database along with the owner’s details.
How It Is Deployed
Home and business owners can use SmartWater in two ways:
Valuable objects can be dabbed with the solution
A unique sprinkler system can be installed and tied in with an alarm system that will spray a burglar with the invisible fluid. The SmartWater cannot be washed off and lasts for months.
Case Evidence It Works
In 2008, Martin Gill, Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester, UK, published a study that supported the effectiveness of the SmartWater system. After interviewing criminals on whether the presence of SmartWater would deter them from burglary, 74% said it would.
During the first six months of a pilot program in 2009 that involved 100 homes in Kent, UK, police recorded a 94% reduction in burglary. In 2016, police used SmartWater on ATMs to spray thieves breaking into or tampering with a machine and recorded a 90% reduction in thefts simply because of a clear warning posted on the machines.
Success in Virginia
In early 2018, Chesterfield County, Virginia police invested $10,000 in start-up costs to bring SmartWater CSI to the County. This included kits that could mark between 60 and 80 products, as well as signs to warn potential burglars; officer training; Smart Water analysis of recovered property; and products for police cover operations,
To date, Chesterfield is the only municipality in the State using SmartWater technology, but it has paid off. In April of this year, Police apprehended a burglar who had broken into the often-robbed Ettrick Deli near Virginia State University after he was seen running from the location and apprehended. Police used an ultraviolet light on the spot and found his clothes and other items marked with the SmartWater.
Since 2018, more than 200 households in Chesterfield neighborhoods, where burglaries have been a problem, have been provided with SmartWater Kits to mark their personal belongings. In addition, every person arrested across the County is now scanned for traces of SmartWater. At the Chesterfield County Jail, a SmartWater detection camera utilizing black light has been placed in a vestibule through which all new prisoners must pass before booking. Even if someone has on different clothes than what was worn during a crime, the SmartWater can remain on the skin for months, making it harder to get away with a robbery that could have happened long ago.
Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood?
SmartWater hopes to expand to other localities in Virginia and will meet with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police later this year.
What are your thoughts? Is this a technology you’d want to protect your personal belongings?