Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Fog the new weapon to fight crime

They smash the service station's glass doors using a hammer and axe handle before kicking their way through. Armed with a large bag, their faces covered and hands gloved, it's clear what they have come to do.

But before they can steal a thing, the station attendant activates a secret weapon. A thick white mist fills the inside of the store, billowing quickly towards the would-be thieves as they try to climb through the shattered door.

The pair are puzzled, but they don't stick around to find out what is going on.

They have just been introduced to a fog cannon, the latest crime prevention method being implemented by service stations nationwide.

The men broke into the Mobil service station on East Tamaki Rd at 3.10am on December 23. It is the third time since July the station has been hit in a similar smash and grab.

Mobil petrol station CCTV cameras show the offenders smashing their way into the store before the fog is released. Photo / Supplied
Mobil petrol station CCTV cameras show the offenders smashing their way into the store before the fog is released. Photo / Supplied

The first two times cash and cigarettes were pinched, but this time the fog cannon cut the thieves off at the pass.

A number of other service stations have also been broken into and police are investigating a link between them.

Between three and five offenders with their faces either covered or hidden behind hoods, charge at the doors using weapons to smash the glass and force entry.

Detective Senior Sergeant Kevin Tiernan suspected the same group was behind the smash and grabs.

"It is probably a core group of four or five and then other people turn up," he said.

"I suspect they are all somehow linked or known to each other."

Mr Tiernan said the offenders all appear to be males under 25. Police have released CCTV images of some of the people involved in a bid to identify and arrest them.

"In one robbery an attendant was attacked and ended up with a cut to the head," he said.

"In the most recent one the attendant was grabbed around the throat. Generally they have managed to run off and lock themselves in an office."

Mr Tiernan said at Mobil last week the attendant activated the fog cannon soon after the two robbers started to smash their way in.

"The cannon fills the store up with fog, there is zero visibility," he said.

"One of the offenders got through the smashed door, but once he was in realised it was a hopeless case and they left."

One of the offenders got through the smashed door, but once he was in realised it was a hopeless case and they left.
Detective Senior Sergeant Kevin Tiernan

Mr Tiernan said fog cannons were "relatively new" to police but were a great crime prevention mechanism.

"It prevents offenders from getting anything," he said.

"This is only the second one I have come across. Recently there was a service station break-in but it was unattended, closed for the night. When they broke in the cannon was obviously set with the alarm and they triggered it. It filled the store up with smoke and they left."

Mr Tiernan was confident police would find those responsible for the spate of robberies. "Some of them are using stolen cars and when we recover those we examine them, looking for forensic evidence," he explained.

Protect Global New Zealand trade distributor and consultant Andre Weibel, who sells fog cannons, said many retailers had them.

They cost up to $5000 to install but once they were in, could save a lot more than that by preventing theft.

Mr Weibel said recently more petrol stations and dairies had been installing fog cannons.

Luxury fashion stores Prada and Louis Vuitton also installed cannons.

"Standard units cover 2700cu/m per minute with fog," he said.

Can you help? Call Counties Manukau police on 09 261 1300 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Q&A

What is a fog cannon?

A security device that fills rooms with dense fog in a matter of seconds. It is activated by an emergency button.

What is the fog made of?

A combination of glycol and water forced through a heated element. It is used in smoke machines and smells of peppermint.

Is it dangerous?

No. The fog is harmless to humans, animals, fixtures and IT gear.

What happens to the fog?

It clears in about 20 minutes in a well-ventilated room.

- NZ Herald

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