“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.” ― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches – a Sherlock Holmes Short Story.
What if it were possible to link a culprit to the scene of their crime in a way that could prove, conclusively and beyond any doubt, that they were there?
Furthermore, what would such an innovation mean for the security industry?
As we all know, some crimes aren’t captured by CCTV, even when cameras are present. Sometimes the footage taken of the event proves too ambiguous to be conclusive, other times the cameras simply miss the event altogether.
If you’ve ever been asked by police to identify a suspect, you’ll know that it’s often maddeningly difficult to remember the scrambled, panicked events of an assault or violent incident. Police may show you a collection of photographed faces, all of which blur together in the post-adrenaline haze of the night, leaving you confused as to the attacker’s true face.
Even if you do remember clearly, police often have only your word to go on, which may not be enough for them to obtain a conviction.
Now, a new technology is turning this ages-old status quo on its head.
Presenting SmartWater, a traceable liquid that, when sprayed upon a person, links them inexorably and definitively to the scene of the crime.
What is SmartWater? How does it work? What does the law say about it?
All of these questions (and others) will be answered here. In this feature, we’ll be taking a detailed look at SmartWater from every conceivable angle.
So, if you’d like to know more, keep reading.
What is SmartWater?
SmartWater is a liquid taggant that, when sprayed upon a person’s property, skin or clothing, effectively ‘tags’ them with a unique code. This code allows police to match the signature of the liquid to the culprit, it’s important to stress here that SmartTag is the canister and Smart water is the liquid inside the canister.
The SmartWater liquid has no colour or odour and, providing it’s used as instructed, doesn’t hurt or harm the person in any way. However, for fairly obvious security reasons, the Company doesn’t disclose how long the marker lasts for but have claimed in the past that SmartWater has been detected on motorcycle parts, eleven years after it was applied. The marker is totally invisible to the naked eye and only appears red under black ultraviolet light.
Forensic scientists only require the tiniest particle of SmartWater in order to detect its presence and link a person to the scene of a crime.
SmartWater is sometimes used by UK police, but its use is growing among door supervisors and other security personnel in the form of SmartTag, a product created by the company behind SmartWater specifically for use by security professionals.
For clarity’s sake, we should say that SmartTag is NOT a weapon. It is designed for use as a deterrent. The SmartTag canisters themselves are shaped to be innocuous, rather than threatening, in order that the threat of being doused with SmartWater facilitates de-escalation as opposed to further aggression.
SmartWater was invented in the early 1990’s by two brothers, Mike and Phil Cleary. Mike is a Chartered Chemist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry who created the technology and Phil, a former police officer, was responsible for developing the business plan and crime reduction strategy.
The brothers have received numerous awards for their invention, including honours bestowed upon them by the Prince of Wales and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Their company has grown considerably in recent years, thanks largely to its credibility and excellent track record.
What is it Used for?
In theory, SmartTag works best as a deterrent. By showing a potentially difficult patron the canister and explaining that, if he or she is sprayed with it, they will be denied entry to any venue with the ability to scan for it (small, portable black UV lights are part of any SmartTag set-up), the door supervisor may be able to resolve a potentially ugly situation before it worsens.
Additionally, troublesome patrons that have been sprayed before being removed from a venue can be turned away by other venues before they’ve even had the chance to kick off. This feature is one of the single biggest benefits presented by SmartWater and the SmartTag system.
The manufacturers of Smartwater have stated that they believe SmartTag technology will become a standard tool used by door supervisors very soon – and for years to come after that.
SmartWater is already employed by police, where it has been used to obtain numerous convictions. In fact, recently arrested people are often scanned for traces of SmartWater, as are suspicious goods purchased at car-boot sales and online. Amazingly, the technology has a 100% conviction rate in court, mainly because SmartWater evidence is undeniable.
Private citizens and businesses wishing to mark their property in case of theft are also using SmartWater in greater-than-ever numbers. SmartWater has been credited with a 25% reduction in London-based burglaries and has even been used to help beat back rail delays by 78%.
SmartWater is also currently being used by security staff working in supermarkets (notably Co-Op as of April this year), so the technology is becoming much more visible and widely-used across a number of sectors.
How Does SmartTag Work?
Each bottle of SmartTag features a unique forensic code, which can be analysed by scientists to a billionth of a part. This code is more robust and easier to detect than DNA.
The forensic code consists of a varying combination of rare Earth elements and each combination is exclusive to a specific batch of SmartTag. The elements are notable because they would not naturally occur together. So, by analysing the combination of elements and cross-checking them against the company database, scientists are able to trace the water back to its source.
Because the SmartWater company operates via a subscription service, each user is registered and their subscriber code and is only known to the company. So, if a person uses a canister of SmartTag and reports the incident to the police, the clothing or individual can be tested and that will lead back to the canister and subscriber that used the SmartTag.
In security terms, because each batch of SmartTag is unique, a criminal can be easily linked to a specific crime. Let’s say, for example, you witness someone assaulting another person, they are running towards the exit and you are too far away to detain them. In this case, you can spray the assailant and call the police, the spray will match any residue found on the suspect, thus proving beyond reasonable doubt that they were present when the crime was committed.
Is SmartWater Safe?
Questions have been raised as to whether or not SmartWater qualifies as an offensive weapon. The short answer is ‘no, it does not’. Both a top-ranking Queen’s Counsel (QC) and a former SIA adviser have confirmed this.
As long as the instructions are followed and the individual using the SmartTag has been properly trained, there is no reason to classify it as a weapon. The SmartWater company has also worked in tandem with UK police across the country, who similarly had no qualms about using it.
One concern we had was centred around risks to a person’s eyes, should SmartTag be accidentally sprayed into them. The Training advises targeting the individual’s body, so that’s what we recommend as well.
The use of SmartWater has had some high profile critics, among them famed security expert Bruce Schneier, who, in 2005 pointed out that unscrupulous people could discreetly spray the property of others with SmartWater and then claim that those items had been stolen by them.
As of 2008, however, Schneier had changed his position following the publication of a research paper by Professor Martin Gill. The study asked convicted and reformed criminals if SmartWater could serve as a deterrent to them. 74% affirmed that ‘yes, it would’.
SmartWater can only be transferred from person-to-person until it dries, which means that only a guilty person, or a person who has had immediate contact with a guilty person needs to worry about transfer.
SmartTag is exclusively offered to active SIA license holders, The license holder will be required to present their SIA ID as part of the sign-up process. They will need to provide a detailed scan of their SIA license as well as a Passport-style photograph for identification purposes.
There’s two different pricing plans, a 1-year membership costs £85.00 for the year, which is equivalent to £7.08 a month and a 3-year plan costs £204.00, which is equivalent to £5.66 per month.
The 3-year membership is great value, it includes a Mini Bodycamera, a SmartWater home security pack, that allows you to tag you own valuables. Both memberships give you you own unique SmartTag spray bottle and allows access to the online platform, which we will review later in this article.
Once a SmartTag order is placed, the customer will be redirected to the site’s private ‘Member’s Area’, where they will need to complete a brief, yet comprehensive eLearning course which consists mainly of instructional videos followed by a short exam. The system will work with any customer who fails the exam, offering unlimited retries to anybody who doesn’t pass on their first attempt.
When the customer uses their SmartWater or SmartTag, they must complete an incident report in the Member’s Area. Following this, they can purchase a new canister for £25 (VAT & P&P included).
Online Membership Area
The online portal is available on a web browser or as an app on android and iphone IOS and everything that is on the site is included in the App.
MEMBERS AREA – The website is very bright and easy to navigate, once you are passed into the members area, you receive a wealth of information.
Get trained – This area is where you receive all the training you need to use Smart tag, the videos are around 3-4 minutes long and are essential to watch before you use the tag.
The videos cover an overview of smart tag and what it is all about, an important video about the laws surrounding the use of smart tag. A video about typical scenarios you may come across and whether a smart tag would be appropriate to be used. Finally the last video is an explanation of using and reporting the use of smart tag..
The Exam is really simple and consists of 18 questions, It’s important that you watch and take in information from the videos as the question relate to all four videos, we did the exam before watching the video and got a score of 68% (you need 87% to pass) after going back through the videos we got 100%, this is an important part, you can take the exam as many times as it takes to pass.
In whole it is a very professional presentation of everything, where they emphasize it is a deterrent and not a weapon, an important part of the training.
Caution Corner – ALERTS on violent Offenders in your area, who could represent a risk to you and your colleagues. Browse through our gallery and filter by region and offence type (COMING SOON)
Security news – The latest news stories, articles and features from the security industry
Smart water discounts – This is a section where you can get 25% OFF all SmartWater Security Packs, you can protect a wide range of assets and valuables, the transparent liquid can be added and then if stolen can be irrefutable linked to you.
Jobs board – The latest jobs in the security industry
Incident reporting – Once you have deployed the smart tag, an incident report needs to be completed. It’s a detailed form and is a legal document. You are able to order a replacement spray when the form is complete.
There is also 4 sections within the elites package
Ask Lachlan – a practising lawyer and former security officer, Lachlan will answer legal questions relating to your job as a Door Supervisor
Incident reporting – to report any incident where SmartTag is deployed, needs to be completed before an new SmartTag can be ordered.
Covert footage – some interesting cases caught on camera where SmartWater has been used to convict criminals
Elite shop – branded merchandise to promote your status as an Elite member, qualified to carry SmartTag
This is an incredibly versatile and useful product, with almost limitless potential. Right off the bat, we can see tons of ways that SmartWater could be an asset to door supervisors and other security professionals all across the country.
First of all, SmartTag can be a great deterrent. The company has done really well in this regard, branding SmartTag visibly and vibrantly and making sure that would-be troublemakers can see in advance that the people on the door are armed with SmartTag and they are unlikely to get into any other venue if they cause trouble.
If someone causes trouble or assaults another person, the chances are traditionally quite low that they will be caught. Even if they are caught, the burden of proof lies with the authorities – and many criminals have escaped justice due to lack of quantifiable evidence that they committed the crimes they are accused of.
However, if the person’s goods are marked with SmartWater – and this is clearly signposted, it will definitely cause criminals to think twice, because now there is a direct trail of evidence that connects them to the crime.
The branding, then, is spot-on, working in a similar fashion to ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ stickers, visible alarm set-ups and CCTV notifications. UK police have also worked hard to get the word out, meaning that many would-be criminals are now aware (and quite wary) of SmartTag and SmartWater.
SmartTag bottles come with a yellow armband, which matches the branding of SmartTag. This makes for a very good deterrent to pub, club and venue patrons that may be about to cause trouble, as its use pretty much guarantees that there will be consequences for their actions.
One minor issue we have lies with the design of the SmartTag bottles. Although they have been designed to look non-threatening, there is a decent chance that they will be mistaken for mace or pepper spray by the patron. This could have opposite consequences than those intended by the door supervisor, but this is a small issue and as the word gets out about SmartTag, more people will recognise the differences.
The DS may, for example, pull out the spray, which could cause the patron to mistake it for an offensive weapon and launch an attack that could have otherwise been avoided. As the training states it is advised that the DS points to the SmartTag and explained what it is as a way of nullifying a potentially unstable situation.
We also feel that the benefits of SmartTag may be shared between door supervisors working at different venues. For example, if a violent person is tagged at Venue A and retreats, he or she will be prevented from entering Venue B and causing trouble there because the staff at that venue will have access to a UV light.
Also, in cases whereby a patron caused trouble on Friday and was ejected from the venue, they may return and repeat their actions on Saturday, when different door staff are present. If they’ve been tagged, however, they will always be denied entry no matter who is on the doors that night. This will have the effect of making venues safer for regular customers who don’t wish to cause trouble.
SmartWater also gives the police enough evidence to proceed to a conviction, as it is infinitely more conclusive than eyewitness statements, CCTV footage and circumstantial evidence combined.
SmartTag can only be used by SIA licensed individuals. This makes it a great tool for door supervisors that isn’t freely available to other professions. By limiting access to SmartTag kits, the SmartWater company has greatly increased the technology’s credibility, as well as ensuring that unqualified people won’t be using it frivolously.
The technology isn’t particularly cheap, however. Subscription costs are reasonable, with replacement canisters not covered under existing plans, but the concept of SmartTag is that it’s a deterrent and you should use it in extreme circumstances, meaning you won’t be buying a canister every week/month.
Returning to the plus side, orders also allow access to the exclusive eLearning platform that ensures that a SmartTag should always be used responsibly and in accordance with the law.
In our view, SmartTag is an innovative technology that has been well designed and thought out. Its practical applications are varied and wide-ranging. It may have one or two ‘teething problems’ (as all new technologies do) as the implications of being sprayed are understood by the wider society, but apart from that, we’re pretty impressed.
We support any technology that makes a door supervisor’s job easier – and this product definitely fits into that category.
Overall, we feel that SmartWater is likely to enter widespread usage fairly soon and that it will have a major role to play in the future of public safety and the security industry on the whole.