This new, high-tech solution could help Merced County curb ag crimes

A Merced County Sheriff's Office patrol car on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.
A Merced County Sheriff's Office patrol car on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

Merced County law enforcement officials plan to employ a new tool to fight crime that victimizes farms and farmers.

It's called SmartWater CSI, a liquid invisible to the naked eye but that is traceable under a certain type of ultraviolet light.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II and Sheriff Vern Warnke will unveil the new tool at 1 p.m. Monday at the Merced County Fairgrounds Pavilion building, 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The presentation is open to the public.

Once the solution has been applied to an item like agricultural equipment, it provides "traceability" and an "undeniable proof of ownership," officials said in a news release. Each bottle of SmartWater carries its own unique chemical code, which can be registered to a certain person or location.

The solution can be used to mark tractors, trailers, farm tools, electronics and other personal possessions, Morse said.

Warnke said he saw the product about a year ago, and met recently with Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. The south Central San Joaquin Valley county has seen success with the solution, according to Tulare County's website.

Warnke said he hopes that beyond helping to catch criminals who target farms, the translucent solution could help prevent crimes.

"(Ag crime) is probably the most underreported crime, but the most significant crime as far as impacting our communities," he said. "Even the ranchers known that if they get something less than $1,000 bucks stolen, it's almost non-punishable."

Stolen copper wire or utility vehicles can be difficult to recover, he said, noting serial numbers can be removed by a thief. That's where the solution could step in, he said, because it can't be washed off and lasts for years on hard surfaces and weeks on a thief's hands.

The product comes with a "nominal" fee, the sheriff noted, but said he's "very excited" about the potential to put a dent in agricultural crime. "I'm very much a supporter of our ag industry," he said. "I think everybody should be because we all like to eat."

During the presentation, Smartwater CSI representatives will demonstrate how the products work, according to officials. The products will be offered for free to members of the Merced County Farm Bureau, according to Executive Director Breanne Ramos.

Farm Bureau President Joe Scoto said the technology has the potential to be "a tremendous asset" to the agricultural community.

For more on the event, call the Merced County Farm Bureau at 209-723-3001.