A jewelry store in Albany is the scene of the first successful use of synthetic forensic technology as a crime-fighting tool in the Northeast.
Truman Jewelers at 71 North Pearl Street in downtown Albany served as guinea pig for the pilot crime suppression initiative, originally unveiled in January 2020.
Vials of synthetic DNA spray mist containing a substance that can only be seen under special frequency UV light are strategically located inside the store.
During an April 23 larceny at the store, a suspect made off with approximately $4,000 in merchandise. Unbeknownst to him, he was “misted” by the forensic Criminal Tagging System.
Shepherd Communication & Security Managing Partner Richard Ruzzo says the mist remains on clothing, skin or hair up to several months after application.
“The system has a very specific PIN code and batch number that’s associated with the premise that it’s been installed in. And so if a crime is committed in a given premise, and that individual is apprehended, the misting that has occurred can be collected through forensic evidence collection, and that batch number will be present. Select DNA is a real game changer when it comes to crime fighting technology. And I’m here to tell you that it works. It allows prosecutors to be able to add additional evidence to their prosecutorial process.”
Ruzzo showed reporters surveillance video of an individual who stopped by the store. He was seen leaning over a display case and taking some merchandise. Moments later, while engaging in conversation with the store owner, he takes another piece of merchandise.
When the suspect was apprehended days later, it was verified he had been misted and the mist matched the DNA from the store.
Ruzzo says ordinary customers shopping at the store don’t have to worry about getting sprayed. The mist is deployed either remotely or in tandem with activation of the store’s alarm system.
“The technology has been in use for about a decade in 30 other countries across Europe, originally introduced in the Netherlands. And we are the first integrator in the Northeast to bring this technology to bear. “
New York State Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Patrick Phelan:
“As crime rises across the state, we need technology to help us to solve crimes. And this is most certainly the cutting edge of crime fighting technology. So we’re happy to help bring this technology around the state. But we also feel that there’s there is a deterrence factor here that we believe that it’ll help reduce crime and prevent crime. “
Ruzzo says the technology costs between $2500 and $3500, and augments existing alarm systems. He adds the primary focus of the technology is crime prevention, with a documented reduction in robbery, burglary and theft by an average of 40 to 86% where it’s deployed. Truman Jewelers Owner Paul Crabbe praised the technology.
“Well, I’ve been downtown for 30 years, 15 in this location. And I did have an incident when I was in another location across the street back in the 80s. And when Rich from Shepherd approached me with this concept and this technology, it was for me, I believe, a win win, that I can utilize that and help maybe even to deter another situation. So and it was, for me, really positive for the client and my staff, that all you have to do is activate the system and let the police do their job. You know, it’s really a no brainer.”
Ruzzo says the mist can also be used to tag inventory, and could be especially helpful in curbing theft at pet stores.
“We can microdot every piece of inventory. And I’m a big animal lover, so I won’t think of a dog or a cat as a piece of inventory. But in the end, they are right, they are a something that a business owner is selling. And you can tag that animal with a pin code from the tagging solution. And then in the event of the animal was found or recovered. Somebody could say that wasn’t the dog that I took. Well, let’s take a look…”
Derrick Hogan, a partner with Tully Rinckey law firm in Albany, sees a possible invasion of privacy defense, and perhaps the need for some type of court order.
“What if the person was wearing a black sweatshirt that day, right? And this spray got on this black sweater and then that person who was actually allegedly at the store, gives that sweatshirt to someone else? What about this other third party now are they going to get in trouble because they borrow someone else’s you know sweatshirt. I think there’s a lot of arguments there. Obviously I don’t think businesses and prosecutors are going to do it too. For their end all be all trying to prove their case I get it that it can be part of evidence, but I certainly don’t think it’s the whole thing.”
Ruzzo claims the spray has “gone through Fourth Amendment review and testing,” but concedes admissibility in court will be up to local District Attorneys and judges, likely on a case by case basis.