British police get serious about farm thefts

An unusual sight at recent agricultural events in the UK was a John Deere 6630 tractor decked out in police livery, complete with the obligatory blue light.

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It’s just one arm of the British police’s initiative to reduce equipment theft on farms, which also includes the revolutionary SmartWater system. Joe Spencer reports.

A new initiative by the Lincolnshire police aimed at reducing the theft of agricultural equipment on farms came in the form of a “blue-light tractor”. This idea came from chief inspector Phil Vickers, who is responsible for community safety in the east division of Lincolnshire police. “The tractor looks like a bit of fun but its purpose is to capture the public’s attention and deliver the message that we take rural crime very seriously” says chief inspector Vickers. “We recognise that, when a working vehicle is stolen, it has a massive impact on businesses and livelihoods. But individuals can reduce their chances of becoming a victim of rural crime and this month’s initiative is about making them aware of the deterrents available. We’re delighted to have the support of John Deere UK who allowed us to use the tractor free of charge and the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) who funded the change of livery.”The police tractor is part of a concerted effort to involve the public, and the farming community in particular, in the fight against crime. It’s intended to pull a crowd to disseminate information about new anti-crime techniques.

SmartWater – the invisible weapon
One such activity has seen the Lincolnshire police working alongside the National Farmer’s Union to promote the use of SmartWater DNA marking.SmartWater is a colourless liquid solution that is simply dabbed onto the uneven surfaces of valuables. Although used frequently for jewellery and electronics, it is equally suitable for tools, machinery and vehicles. Each bottle contains a unique chemical ‘code’ which is registered to the individual household or business – conclusively proving ownership. It can’t be easily seen by the naked eye, is resistant to harsh weather conditions and is almost impossible to remove. The nearly invisible solidified liquid glows under ultraviolet light, making it easy for the police to detect. When a scraping is taken the unique DNA code makes it easier to reunite stolen property with its owner. SmartWater signage is also a powerful deterrent.

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The initiative spreads
The SmartWater scheme is also part of Cumbria police’s Farmwatch programme. It has proved vital against thefts on farms. Now, police in Scotland say offenders are being forced north of the border, prompting Dumfries and Galloway police to roll out the SmartWater system across their region.
PC Alistair Mitchell, crime reduction officer north of the border, says: “SmartWater has been such a success with Farmwatch in the Cumbria area that over the last few months we’ve seen an increase in rural thefts in our area. Interviews with criminals indicated they’re moving in because we didn’t have SmartWater and it’s taking them less than half an hour to travel to Scotland and commit crime.”
Now that both Carlisle’s Durranhill station and the main station in Dumfries have the SmartWater system, PC Mitchell hopes to see criminals caught on both sides of the border.

SmartWater for Africa?
SmartWater chief executive Phil Clear, says: “SmartWater Technology Ltd is currently engaged in provisional discussions as to the viability of appointing a South African distributor. “However, for SmartWater to be effective, criminals must know how it works. The SAP must also be trained in the correct search and detection procedures, which will take time.     |fw