DNA tagging system combats crime

By Natalie Akoorie

A system which uses "synthetic DNA" to tag personal property has been distributed to 600 homes in a Hamilton suburb to combat burglaries.

Police went door-to-door in Fairfield yesterday to hand out the $50 SelectaDNA kits, which use a glue-like solution to label property. A pin-head amount of it holds a unique code which provides proof of ownership through a global database of users.

Douglas Cres resident Jim Ranginui was burgled after Christmas last year.

Mr Ranginui, a retired carpentry tutor and a Justice of the Peace, said the thieves cleaned out his house while he attended a meeting during the day.

"It was pretty severe. Three of us were robbed at the same time."

Taken were several televisions, a laptop, computer screen, electric jug, and eight watches.

After a demonstration by Melville Community Constable Bill Taua, Mr Ranginui said he would use his free SelectaDNA kit to mark possessions including a USB stick which contained irreplaceable photos of his grandchildren and whanau.

"That has the most sentimental value for me."

At another house police marked a gramophone for one elderly resident.

Police also marked the Investec Super Rugby trophy and the Ranfurly Shield, the first time sporting trophies had been marked with the solution.

Hamilton police spokesman Andrew McAlley said it was "far better to prevent crime from happening than to respond to it".

In a six-month trial of the crime deterrent programme in the Manurewa suburb of Randwick Park in 2009, burglaries dropped by a reported 61.8 per cent. However, figures of the actual numbers of burglaries were not provided.

SelectaDNA is already used in more than 2000 schools across the North Island and will be in all schools around the country next year.

One Waikato school had already benefited from the scheme after a computer containing students' work was returned by police who tracked it through the SelectaDNA database.

New Zealand was the third country in the world after Britain and the Netherlands to use SelectaDNA.

Director David Morrissey said the technology had resulted in a two-thirds reduction in burglaries of schools using it.

"So it absolutely works. This gives you a unique signature which gives the opportunity for police to recover that property and return it to its rightful owner.

"But what it does is it changes behaviours and that's the bit that really excites."

He said the 2009 trial in Manurewa showed the solution stopped displacement, which meant there was no increase in crime in surrounding areas where SelectaDNA was not being used.

- Hamilton News

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