SmartWater CSI returning to the Boca Raton campus this fall

FAU Police will purchase more crime-prevention kits, despite the initiative struggling to catch-on.


Photo by Nate Nkumbu

Yehudah Rodman, Contributing Writer

Despite Florida Atlantic’s Boca Raton location being the first university in the nation to bring SmartWater — a water-based forensic liquid — to its campus in October of 2014, FAU Police have yet to use the technology to solve any crimes. And more than a year later, many students still don’t know about it.

SmartWater CSI has signs advertising the technology near bike racks and other crime hotspots on campus. Photo by Max Jackson | Staff Photographer
SmartWater CSI has signs advertising the technology near bike racks and other crime hotspots on campus. Photo by Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

Trying a Different Approach

Though the initial launch of the product did not reach the majority of the student body, the police plan to order more SmartWater kits for the upcoming fall semester.

Each bottle costs approximately $30, and while the $6,000 investment was made by Student Government, the police said that in the coming year they’ll be funding the program’s expansion.

Although police haven’t used the technology to solve any crimes yet, Deputy Police Chief Sean Brammer is confident that SmartWater can combat theft.

“It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. And that is to be a deterrent,” Brammer said.

To deter people from targeting student property, and to inform them that SmartWater technology is present on campus, police have put up signage with the company slogan: “Thieves Beware.”

“Any tool that we can provide our students with to combat property theft, we’re all aboard,” said Brammer. “Crime prevention is not just about an uniformed police officer showing up, it’s about community involvement.”

According to Sgt. Mary Douglas, police will be ramping up their marketing efforts to reach a larger number of students and potential thieves come fall.

“We target those places that we know are hit the most. Bike racks, student housing areas and the like,” said Douglas, regarding the warning signs that began appearing around campus with the introduction of SmartWater.

She said the police will be doing more than just showing up at dorms to give the liquid out.

Part of the new push to introduce SmartWater will be to advertise in high traffic areas like the Breezeway.

“We’re also going to utilize our social media, Twitter, Facebook. I just recently realized that we need to grab an Instagram handle,” said Brammer. “We’re trying to push it on social media.”

Antonio Arserio, FAU graduate and general manager of SmartWater CSI’s corporate headquarters, said, “The best use for SmartWater is to flood a specific market with it, and to hang up signs so everyone knows it is there.”

“It’s not going to stop criminals from stealing, but they’re going to go to an area that doesn’t have SmartWater,” he said.

Photo by Nate Nkumbu | Contributing Writer
Photo by Nate Nkumbu | Contributing Writer
Photo by Nate Nkumbu | Contributing Writer
Photo by Nate Nkumbu | Contributing Writer

Students Still Skeptical

The department distributed SmartWater to students living on campus by setting up a booth introducing the product outside of the Indian Rivers Tower residence hall on move-in day.

But some students ignored their offer.

Junior communication major Chelsea Dillon, who lives in University Village Apartments, said, “I got a kit on move-in day, but I’ve never used it.”

Dillon said she thinks SmartWater would have a bigger impact on the Boca Raton location if more students knew about it. When her friend’s bike was stolen on campus last year, police told her they wouldn’t be able to recover it because it would be impossible for them to prove it was stolen.

“If she would’ve used SmartWater maybe it would’ve helped,” said Dillon. “Maybe I’ll use it next year.”

Other students living on campus didn’t know SmartWater existed.

“I’ve never heard of it,” said Austin Hill, a senior finance major who lives in Indian River Towers. “I didn’t see anyone giving it out on move-in day.”

What is SmartWater?

The technology is manufactured by SmartWater CSI, LLC — a privately operated crime-reduction and theft-deterrence company.

The water-based forensic substance is used to tag belongings in case they’re stolen or lost. Although items tagged with SmartWater appear unmarked to the naked eye, a unique UV black light — not available commercially — can detect the solution.

The fluid is encoded with a forensic identification number that is registered to the property owner, allowing law enforcement officers to determine exactly whom a swabbed product belongs to. The serial number is uploaded to the Boca Raton Police Department and SmartWater CSI databases.

Coming in a kit, the smallest container, which is about the size of a tube of lip gloss, is accompanied by an applicator that tags the user’s property. The department hoped the technology would dissuade thieves from snatching items like laptops, cell phones and bicycles.

During the initial rollout of SmartWater on campus, police estimate that out of the 300 they purchased, 100 tubes of the liquid were handed out.

Photo by Nate Nkumbu | Contributing Writer
Photo by Nate Nkumbu | Contributing Writer

SmartWater Success

Despite recent budget cuts at FAU, Arserio believes SmartWater kits will be a worthwhile investment for the police because each small bottle can last a user several years.

“Studies show that it costs society approximately $6,000 for a burglary prosecution,” he said. “Police departments that are using it have seen an average reduction in property thefts of about 25 percent.”

Some South Florida neighborhoods that are currently using SmartWater have seen the number of thefts decrease by an even greater margin.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Swan and Seacrest Estates— two neighborhoods in Boynton Beach—had thefts decrease by 75 percent since they started using the forensic solution in 2013.

As the product continues to be used by more police departments around South Florida, including the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Arserio said its impact on crime prevention will continue to grow.

However, he believes that in order for SmartWater to have its intended impact, thieves need to know that people know about it and are using it.

“You have to show that the community is on board,” he said. “Criminals avoid places that people are using it. They may go somewhere else, but they’re not going to come to FAU.”

Alexandra Van Erven contributed to the reporting of this story.

 Yehudah Rodman is a contributing writer with the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories, he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.