Millions of British pounds generated by cocaine dealing have been seized by UK police forces thanks to Morpho's Itemiser trace detection system. Spectacular results that could inspire other European countries...
"One of the most widespread criminal activities in the UK is cocaine dealing," explained Bob Green, Regional Sales Manager for UK & Ireland. "It involves large amounts of money changing hands but when ‘suspicious' cash is discovered during a police investigation, it cannot be seized unless a formal link is established between this money and cocaine dealing". Where there is no clear evidence at the scene, a test must therefore be performed to identify possible traces of cocaine on the banknotes. "It has been established that approximately ten percent of banknotes in general circulation in the UK are contaminated by traces of cocaine," Green pointed out. "But when notes come into close proximity with the substance, the contamination rate increases. Under UK protocols, a rate five times higher than the amount generally found is sufficient to establish a direct link between the cash and cocaine dealing."
A reliable, cost-effective system
For a long time, such testing procedures were quite rare. There were only two laboratories in the entire country and sending the banknotes to them involved heavy transport and personnel costs, as well as high processing fees. The Morpho Itemiser® system has eliminated these obstacles. "The test can be completed at the police station in a fraction of the time," Green indicated. "Particles on the surface of banknotes are collected and transformed into vapor, before being ionized using a radioactive metal. By applying electric fields in a drift tube, each substance can be identified from the time it takes to pass through the tube. This is made possible by Morpho's ITMSTM trace detection technology. If the threshold limit is exceeded, an alarm is triggered."
A new application for a not-so-new technology!
A simple idea... and yet one that is quite recent. "The Itemiser 3 - and the improved Itemiser 3 Enhanced - have been used in the UK since 2002 to detect traces of cocaine on individuals entering pubs and clubs," Green recalled.
"But police forces did not consider applying the technology to banknotes until 2010. We then had to demonstrate the accuracy of the system and the possibility of standardizing the equipment calibration process. Meanwhile, the UK Government's Home Office has developed protocols to enable the results to be safely used in civil prosecutions."
This action has been conducted within the framework of Operation International, a program involving Morpho and 27 police forces and organizations throughout the country. Encouraged by the success already achieved, research is ongoing to improve knowledge about drug contamination on banknotes and increase the value of this evidence in court.
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