News: Marking your territory

Published in the May 12th issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Marking your territory

Edmonton Sun

“It’s like DNA for your property.”

It’s called Operation Hands Off and it’s a property-tracking-identification program meant to stop theft from home construction sites across Edmonton by creating fear and uncertainty in the minds of criminals.

Officials hope that if thieves don’t know which products are marked and traceable, they won’t steal anything at all.

State-of-the-art MicroDotDNA tracking technology and invisible trace markings are put on anything from small screws to lumber, large appliances and other tools and building supplies lying around construction sites that are often the target of theft.

To a thief, the marked product looks exactly the same as a product that hasn’t been marked, when it actually contains grain-sized dots with an imprint of unique serial numbers. Some products may also contain a forensic spray only visible with special light and lasers.

If the marked item is stolen, police, builders and vendors supplying materials to construction sites can trace the item through an online, international database.

“If you decide you want to come after property in these sites, your risk of getting caught is very high,” said Operation Hands Off president Pat Cowman, whose company is based out of Leduc.

With bright, red and white signs set up in most of the city’s new home construction zones that read “hands off” and “property in this area marked by police identification,” the Canadian Home Builders’ Association says they’ve seen a marked decline in theft from these areas since the technology was put in place several months ago.

“It has made a difference,” said Sharon Young, president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. “We’ve seen a significant reduction (in thefts).”

Young said prior to investing in the microdot technology, theft from construction sites was “a big problem.”

Cowman says property loss has already been reduced by up to 80% because of the identification and tracking program.

“It’s very effective and it provides the identification that police ultimately require to prosecute somebody or to return property,” he said.

Eleven large contractors in Edmonton are currently using Operation Hands Off tracking in their construction sites, while the MicroDotDNA technology is also being used in other different projects across the country.

“The system was just recently used for the Olympics (and) it had phenomenal success of theft-reduction,” said Cowman.

And there is an option for personal, home-tracking. Homeowners can order marking kits for items like bicycles, laptops, or even iPods. The kits range from $15 up to $200. Microdots are also being used to identify and track vehicles.

Police say any product, be it construction material or personal items, should always be marked in some way.

“It’s just good crime prevention,” said Const. Steve Sharpe with the Edmonton Police Service. “In any manner, if you can document your valuables, it makes it more recoverable for the EPS to bring that property back to you.”

Microdots were originally created by the U.S. military in the 1940s for espionage missions and has since grown into a commercial product.

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