Stick a stolen item under a black light, then watch it turn glowstick-yellow and lead you back to its rightful owner.
That's the hope for the recently announced partnership between the Riviera Beach Police Department and SmartWater CSI.
SmartWater CSI, based in Fort Lauderdale, produces "forensically encoded liquids," invisible inks infused with rare earth metals. Each bottle contains its own unique signature, so property marked with the liquid will be traceable to its registered owner.
SmartWater glows fluorescent under ultraviolet black light and is nontransferable once dried, so criminals would be unable to remove it from property. Classified as nonhazardous, it lasts five years where placed, and only a small fragment is needed for identification, which would take place in a SmartWater laboratory after property is recovered and examined by police.
Seventeen years old in Britain, SmartWater has been in the United States for only six months but has already announced partnerships with Riviera Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Tallahassee police departments. Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth is advising the company on how to educate the court system in the use of the product as evidence.
The program with Fort Lauderdale targeted the community of South Middle River. The city police department used law enforcement trust fund money -- that's money raised from the auction of seized property -- to purchase SmartWater kits to distribute.
Five hundred kits were purchased for $15,000, according to South Middle River Civic Association board of directors President Sal Gatanio. Along with the 440 kits distributed since February 2, more than 200 signs were placed on residential lawns.
"The idea is to cover a residential or business area as broadly as possible, thereby creating a SmartWater safe zone," wrote company President Logan Pierson in an email to the New Times. "Once the branding has taken effect, criminals know that their chances of being marked, caught, and jailed are greatly increased."
Residential burglaries in South Middle River are down about 30 percent for the three-month period of March, April, and May compared to last year, but the police department's Major Michael Gregory, who overseas the neighborhood, struck a measured tone commenting on the pilot program.
"We are still in the test phase," he said. "It's too short a period of time to draw sound conclusions."
The shifting nature of crime is a concern for Gatanio. While residential burglary is down in South Middle River, vehicle burglary has gone up 106 percent in the same period.
Law enforcement is working with SmartWater to create new applications for the technology, like grease that can be placed on handles in bait cars or sprays that can be used in covert police operations or in bank dye packs to further link criminals to crime scenes.
The Riviera Beach Police Department will start by distributing SmartWater products to businesses. Sandie Foland of Baron Sign Manufacturing represented the business community at last week's Riviera Beach city hall news conference.
Important international companies like Schomburg and ESG Cos. are operating in Riviera Beach. She said: "We want them to feel secure about adding employees and improving and growing their companies here in Riviera Beach."
Consumers can purchase residential kits online for $199, and they typically pay an annual subscription service like a home alarm system. In agreements with cities and police departments, the company charges $35 to $45 per kit as a one-time fee depending on the volume of kits sold.
Chief Clarence Williams of the Riviera Beach Police Department is known for blending new technology with traditional crime-fighting tools.
"This is going to appear throughout our city," he said at the news conference podium, holding a SmartWater warning sign. "So bad guys, from the top cop in this city, beware."
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