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SLO Sheriff's Office offers SmartWater CSI to help farmers, ranchers trace stolen property 

If you're in the midst of planning your next big agricultural heist, now might be the time to reconsider.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office announced on Sept. 17 its partnership with SmartWater CSI, a company that makes a traceable forensic liquid that can be smeared onto objects so they can be easily returned to their owners if stolen and recovered by law enforcement.

click to enlarge CAUGHT GREEN-HANDED SmartWater CSI is a liquid that can be dabbed onto any non-organic object and glows when placed under ultraviolet lights. Each bottle of SmartWater has its own unique fingerprint that can be traced back to the owner of the bottle. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF NICHOLS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Jeff Nichols
  • CAUGHT GREEN-HANDED SmartWater CSI is a liquid that can be dabbed onto any non-organic object and glows when placed under ultraviolet lights. Each bottle of SmartWater has its own unique fingerprint that can be traced back to the owner of the bottle.

SmartWater CSI, not to be confused with purified and bottled drinking water, is a colorless and odorless mineral-based liquid that can be dabbed onto any non-organic object, from jewelry to tractors and everything in between. SmartWater glows when placed under ultraviolet lights, it's nearly impossible to remove once applied, and each bottle of SmartWater has its own unique fingerprint that can be traced back to the owner of the bottle, according to Sgt. Jeff Nichols, supervisor of the Rural Crimes Unit for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office.

"It really is kind of a modern-day DNA, so to speak, for marking personal property," Nichols told New Times.

Anyone can use the product, but Nichols said the Sheriff's Office recently spent about $25,000 on 450 kits that will be distributed to SLO County farmers and ranchers free of charge. Each kit marks anywhere between 60 and 80 pieces of property, and the liquid lasts for about five years, Nichols said.

While the Sheriff's Office may consider rolling the program out on a broader level in the future, the agency is currently focusing on being more proactive about getting stolen goods and equipment back to farmers and ranchers.

"The ag and ranch community suffer the greatest losses in the county dollar-wise," Nichols said. "So that was an area we wanted to target first."

Between 2015 and 2018, the SLO County Rural Crimes Unit investigated nearly 600 ag-related incidents, according to data compiled by Nichols. About 113 of those cases involved animal abuse and neglect issues, 177 were non-criminal incident reports, and 146 involved thefts of agricultural property. Nichols said they've investigated reports of stolen tractors, ATVs, miscellaneous equipment, fuel, and even crops—thieves often snag produce directly from orchards and fields.

Since the Sheriff's Office announced the program, it's been "flooded" with phone calls, Nichols said.

The SLO County Farm Bureau is also already getting requests from members interested in the kits, according to Executive Director Brent Burchett.

Thefts can be financially devastating to local farmers and ranchers, Burchett said. It's not only costly to replace equipment, but thefts can impact the health of livestock and crops. Other counties, including Monterey, Tulare, and Butte, have also implemented this program, and Burchett said that with more counties using SmartWater CSI, it only becomes more effective.

"There is no 'magic bullet' to eliminate thefts, but we are optimistic that this will be a significant new tool," Burchett wrote in a statement to New Times. "SmartWater CSI will discourage thefts on rural properties and help law enforcement quickly identify the rightful owner during investigations."

Fast facts

Peoples' Self-Help Housing gave out house keys to the newest group of home owner-builders during a ceremony at 931 Soka Way in San Miguel on Sept. 20. According to the nonprofit, each group of owner-builders works roughly 1,600 hours of "sweat-equity" over a 12- to 15-month period. This sweat equity is used in lieu of a cash down payment, and with the help of a low-interest mortgage, it helps low-income families become homeowners. Visit pshhc.org for more information.

• Thirty local military veterans and family members who participate in the SLO County Veterans Outreach program will learn about mental health services and experience the escape rooms at The Puzzle Effect in San Luis Obispo on Sept. 28. To learn more about the program, visit slocounty.ca.gov. Δ

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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