A POLICE officer is intending to stamp out Christmas tree thefts by introducing secret tracking equipment and DNA technology this winter.
PC Simon Hallam, Safer Neighbourhood Officer from Verwood Police Station, says that every December, across East Dorset, Christmas trees are taken en masse to be sold on to unsuspecting customers.
However, after bringing together local garden centre owners to discuss the problems they face, he decided that something more needed to be done, and now nine local owners have signed up to Operation Pine.
He said: “We’ve got DNA kits, signs going up, increased patrols in the area, and tracking equipment which can be installed if needs be.”
He added: “Before, when this has happened, we have just been able to have increased patrols, but that isn’t enough.
“The thing is, when you look at the prices of real trees, the cost can run into thousands.
“Some places were even thinking of reducing the number of trees that they ordered in, so that fewer could be taken.”
Operation Pine includes the use of DNA security marking, an invisible liquid solution, which will be painted on to specially-selected trees, and can remain in place for two to three weeks.
The garden centre owners will place the marked trees out at night, when closed to the general public, and then, in the event, somebody picks one up, the solution would transfer on to their skin or clothing.
A police officer can then use a UV light to make it show up, when a suspected tree thief is questioned.
PC Hallam said: “As well as DNA security marking, we may consider planting tracking devices into some of the Christmas trees, which works through GPS using a phone signal, so that we could look up its location.
“East Dorset Crime Prevention Panel has subsidised the DNA security marking, and we are working in partnership with East Dorset Crime to provide posters, leaflets and signs.
“One garden centre in the area is also buying up a lot of covert motion detector cameras as well.
“The message to residents is that if you are buying a Christmas tree this year, then think about where you are buying it from.
“We are also sending out a clear message to the less reputable places who are selling on Christmas trees, that something will be done about this.”
If anybody witnesses any suspicious activity around an East Dorset garden centre, call Dorset Police on 101