Crime fighters promote ‘Smart Water’ to combat ag theft

March 1, 2018

Farmers from across the county gathered Monday at the fairgrounds in Merced to learn about a new method to protect their equipment from thieves in rural areas.

Unveiled to members of the Farm Bureau, the new technology — marketed as "SmartWater" — will assist law enforcement in combating rural theft by marking agricultural equipment with a colorless, chemically coded solution that fluoresces under a special light.

Each bottle of SmartWater carries its own unique chemical code that is registered to a certain person, allowing items to be traced back to the registered owner and serving as proof of ownership.

During the presentation, representatives from SmartWater CSI were on hand to demonstrate the use of the product and answer questions regarding its use to deter theft and apprehend those who steal equipment. The solution can be used to mark anything from agricultural assets like tractors and trailers, to farm tools, electronics and personal possessions.

District Attorney Larry Morse explained that the technology is being offered free of charge to members of the Farm Bureau by way of a grant. Personnel from the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office will be on hand to register those who wish to sign up as SmartWater users.

“SmartWater is an important new tool that will assist law enforcement in the arrest and prosecution of thieves targeting folks in our rural communities,” Sheriff Vern Warnke said.

Merced County is now the second county in California to bring the SmartWater technology to members of its agricultural community. A single bottle of SmartWater retails at $42, and with only a small amount needed to mark an item, the product can be used to mark hundreds of high dollar value items. Additionally, once marked, the compound will continue to fluoresce for a five-year minimum, and remain chemically traceable much longer, even in instances of fire or other destruction or attempts to remove it. This allows for items to be tracked from anywhere they may make their way to, and their identification just a matter of time.

Once located and identified, registration information is then pulled to contact the items rightful owner. SmartWater can be place on a range of materials, including metal, plastic, wood, glass, jewelry and more.

Merced County Supervisor Lloyd Pareira can’t wait to put SmartWater on his farm equipment at his rural property in Merced.

"I signed up to be a participant, and I plan to protect my equipment with SmartWater, and that way if it’s ever stolen, I’ll get it back,” he said. “I own a cattle trailer that I’ll put it on, and I can use it on a dump trailer that has hydraulics which hauls gravel, sand or trash, a water pump and a generator. I can also put it on a Kubota RTV, something that a lot of farmers use for doing chores on the farm."

Explaining the program’s benefits, he said, "Criminals are notorious for eliminating serial numbers off equipment. If I have my SmartWater on my cattle trailer and they steal it and that person gets pulled over, law enforcement can use a special UV light. It’s possible criminals could use a grinder and get the SmartWater off the equipment, but then it would be on the grinder or on their clothes."

Describing how it works, Pareira said, "Law enforcement shines a light on the equipment that’s stolen, and it illuminates and they can scratch off a piece of SmartWater the size of a pinhead and send it off to the lab, and the lab will say who the owner is. The SmartWater looks like milky water when it’s wet. Once you put it on the equipment and it dries, you can’t see it with the naked eye. But when you shine the light on it, it illuminates it and it looks fluorescent green."

He said, "If you own equipment that is pretty generic looking, it’s hard to prove it is yours. But if you see your equipment in someone’s possession, you can call the Sheriff."

The SmartWater program has been implemented in Tulare County, according to Pareira.

He said, "Rural ag crimes are down by double digits the last couple of years in Tulare County, and the farmers attribute that in part to SmartWater. When you put SmartWater signs up at your place with the Sheriff’s and the District Attorney’s logos, criminals are less likely to go to those properties. I think in the future, criminals will just stay away from areas with SmartWater use."

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