‘Hot dots’ to crack crime

2014-03-11 00:00

A KLOOF resident gleefully “contaminated” his most prized possessions with tiny dots — making David Bond the first customer in a home security trend that is set to sweep the whole of South Africa.

Following the technology’s success in preventing car theft in the past year, a massive roll-out of locally made microdots for other movable assets — from flat-screen TVs to firearms and even cows — has begun in KZN, which is the first province to take the tiny trace tags indoors. They are already mandatory security features on new cars.

In a partnership between SAPS and the community network SA Can, the roll-out is expected to see up to 80 000 customers and donor beneficiaries, including over 100 poor schools, “paint” their goods with the near-invisible dots in KZN this year.

Although they have no tracking ability, the near-invisible dots — which show up under ultraviolet light sets issued to police — provide an identity trace and a quick means of proving theft, via a database of ownership details and a “Hot Dot” registry of stolen items.

After the launch last month, more than 200 residents of Kloof signed up for the R149 kits, which contain 1 000 microdots each, through their community policing forum — and at least 14 other CPFs, like Gillitts, plan similar roll-outs next month.

At the front of the queue was David Bond — a semi-retired salesperson, and leader of a neighbourhood watch forum in Waterfall — who said it had taken him 90 minutes to apply hundreds of microdots to 30 items in his house, including silverware and horse tackle.

“It does take a little time to register everything, and you do need to be cautious that you don’t apply the glue to the seams on appliances — like the battery opening on your camera,” said Bond. “But the dots are so unobtrusive and inexpensive, I think people around the country are going to embrace this.”

Corne Broodryk, chairperson of the Kloof CPF, said the glued-on identity system would make many more arrests stick, and act as a major deterrent once thieves understood that tagged loot was “hot”.

Tim Ralfe, head of the stock theft committee for the KZN Red Meat Producers Organisation, confirmed that members had been briefed on microdots as a weapon against the theft of cattle and sheep, “and there is considerable interest on what is a very good idea”.

However, Ralfe admitted that farmers would have “a creative challenge” in finding places on animals to apply the dots, since horns could be removed, and hooves grew out within months.

“They might look at the base of the tail — who knows, but a boer maak ‘n plan,” he said.

Brian Jones, founder of SA Can, said the community network had been given a mandate to manage the roll-out, and will serve both as an unpaid agent to sell the Recoveri Microdot kits, and a support centre after thefts.

“Microdots have been so successful so fast that they were gazetted in September last year,” he said.

“We are now piloting a project to contaminate the electronic goods of entire communities. This is a revolutionary approach. We are going for the jugular of the stolen goods market.

“If we can have even half the success which we’ve seen in the decrease of theft of vehicles, it would amount to a turn-around for house theft.”

He said 125 government schools that were at “high risk” of computer theft had been identified as recipients of free kits.

Bond has also been supplied with 24 kits to sell to his neighbours as part of the neighbourhood roll-out strategy, “and there is a lot of interest”.

“I’m convinced they’ll eventually prove to be an effective deterrent to crime on our property,” he said.

“Most important, they will get criminals off the street — I have seen over and over how suspects have to be let go because police just cannot prove the items on them are stolen.”

His next step will be to fix a sign to his front gate warning passers-by that his assets are contaminated with the new ownership DNA.

Last year, microdots cost one Estcourt motorist dearly, when he allegedly fled the scene of an accident on the KZN South Coast in which jogger Carol Ann Tucker (47) was killed. The man had microdots on his BMW M5 to protect him against theft.

But police used dots attached to small parts of the man’s car left at the scene to track him down for the hit-and-run crime.

Businessperson Rakesh Omarpersadh (43) has been charged with culpable homicide in the case.

Philip Opperman, CEO of Recoveri Microdot, told The Witness that up to 30 000 kits would be donated to poorer communities and schools.

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said, “Police recover a lot of property where we are unable to trace the owners. We also cannot link the suspect to a specific incident of crime and we are convinced that the microdot technology will assist us greatly.”

He added, “We hope to extend this project to other suburbs in KZN at a later stage.”

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