Criminal countermeasures

A few nights back, bored to tears watching the pseudo-scientific Danny Boyle science-fiction film ‘Sunshine’, I went in search of a more interesting television programme to stimulate the old brain cells.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled across a documentary that purported to lift the lid off the UK’s burgeoning home-grown cannabis industry. So I snuggled under the duvet and had a gander.

To provide the viewer with an insight into activities of the criminals that are growing cannabis here in the UK, the producers of the programme asked their reporter to follow the police in their search to find and then shut down any illegal operations.

Flying in a helicopter high above Bristol, the police officers were filmed deploying a rather sophisticated thermal imaging camera to capture the heat profiles of the houses they flew over.

Apparently, due to the fact that the cannabis plants need a tremendous amount of light and heat to grow successfully, the police can spot buildings that might potentially be housing indoor cannabis farms by capturing their heat profiles using the camera. Any suspicious buildings that are spotted from the air are then investigated by their colleagues on the ground.

And this is indeed what happened. Back on terra firma, we were treated to images of the Boys and Girls in Blue entering a rather hot semi-detached home that they had spotted from the air to discover whether or not there might be some cannabis growing there.

Being British police officers, they first attempted to ring the front doorbell to gain access to the home. But after that proved futile, they resorted to using a rather modest hand-held battering ram to knock in one of the panels of the poorly made front door of the house,minimising the damage to the property as much as possible.

Inside, of course, they found plenty of the illegal plants. After removing them, they left a note for the owner that he should make himself available at the local police station to account for his actions as soon as possible.

As interesting as the programme was, it did seem to provide aninordinate amount of information that would be of tremendous use to any potential cannabis grower. In fact, armed with such knowledge, it seemed to me that anyone with a mind to start growing the stuff for profit could easily set up effective countermeasures to prevent the police from discovering their whereabouts.

On the roof of a building, for example, it would be quite simple for a criminal with some scientific wherewithal to set up a small sensor that might detect any motion in the skies above his house, effectively shutting off the heat and light to the valuable crops as the police helicopter travelled overhead, turning it back on as the helicopter moved out of view.

Of course, I’m not encouraging anyone to break the law and to start growing cannabis in their own home. But surely, arming criminals with technical knowledge about how the police investigate their activities through television programmes will only help the criminals develop effective countermeasures to protect their valuable investment.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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