Indiana sheriff tests new chemical crime fighter

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We have been hearing a lot lately about murders and other violent crimes in central Indiana.

But you are much more likely to become the victim of a property crime - someone breaking into your home or stealing your things. Statewide, one in every 33 people is the victim of a property crime, according to the latest federal numbers.

Now, there are new ways to keep your family and your valuables safer, including a unique chemical crime fighter being used for the first time in Indiana.

It's considered a high-tech trap for thieves. A liquid solution, which acts like painted-on DNA, leaves a forensic fingerprint with its own unique code on your personal property. It's invisible, until exposed under a special black light. Then, the solution glows a bright yellow.

This futuristic substance is called SmartWater CSI.

First developed by police and scientists in Great Britain, this chemical is now being used right here in Indiana. Dabbed onto valuables or sprayed onto people, the company that makes SmartWater claims it will tag your stuff for five years and help police trace it back to you if it's stolen.

Porter County Sheriff David Lain heard about SmartWater and decided he wanted to use it to protect Hoosiers. His is the first police agency in the state and only the fourth in the country to try it.

"I liked it the moment I saw it. I said, 'We have got to have this'," Lain said. "It is cutting edge technology and an added level of protection that nobody has thought of before."

The company says the substance can create up to a billion individual signatures, so each vial of SmartWater is unique.

It can even mark criminals with a mist, so they're wearing evidence of the crime.

"Each container has own unique serial number, so much like DNA or a fingerprint, it's traceable to the exact person who owns the property. We're all potential victims. We all worry about the things that we've worked so hard to get," Lain said. "Your stuff, if it's marked with SmartWater and it's located, it will come back to you."

Inmates are actually paying for SmartWater in Porter County. Lain is buying the vials with jail commissary funds. He's already purchased 250 and plans on buying a hundred more.

Lain is training officers on how to recognize the SmartWater signature and he also plans to put large signs in the jail booking room, warning inmates about targeting homes using SmartWater.

Right now, he's giving the vials away to Porter County seniors. Jane Strayer received some and immediately marked her jewelry and cell phone.

"If I knew that my valuables were marked and something catastrophic happened where they disappeared, I'd feel much more confident that they'd be returned to me," Strayer said.

In Florida, the other state where police are currently using SmartWater, it's literally catching criminals in the act. After a rash of car break-ins, detectives put out a bait car, armed with a camera and SmartWater CSI.

Police surveillance video shows an accused burglar open the car door, grab a purse and get sprayed. Detectives later found the SmartWater on his skin and made the arrest. He's now in a Florida jail awaiting trial on burglary and theft charges.

But there is a big unknown with SmartWater.

The company says its product has led to many convictions in Great Britain, but SmartWater hasn't truly been tested yet in courts in the United States.

Aviva Orenstein is a professor in the Indiana University School of Law, specializing in evidentiary law. Orenstein says the first few cases in America will be challenging for prosecutors.

"With all new technology, the law tends to be pretty conservative," Orenstein explained. "I think the best analogy is when people started using DNA sequencing. At first, it took a long time. It took a long time for courts to accept it. So the first couple times it comes up in any jurisdiction, it's going be a big deal because the person offering the evidence is going have to show that the technology is reliable."

That technology has only been used in Indiana for a few weeks now. But police say its potential could give everyone a new weapon against crime.

SmartWater is available online. The kits cost about $99.

Right now, Porter County police are the only ones using it and looking for the SmartWater signature on stolen items, but other departments may use it in the future. The SmartWater CSI company made a presentation at the Indiana Sheriff's Association annual convention last week, as part of a new technology session.

SmartWater CSI website