Criminals looking to target shops and homes in the run-up to Christmas are being warned to think again as Merseyside Police launches its successful ‘Operation Aquila’ campaign on Wednesday 21st October.

The Liverpool-wide operation aims to reduce business robberies and house burglaries by giving shopkeepers hi-tech devices such as smoke cloaks and doorway sprays which foil criminals trying to steal from them.

Last year’s operation (Aquila 1) saw business robberies in north Liverpool reduced by 52 per cent and in hotspot neighbourhoods by 45 per cent compared to the year before.

And house burglaries were driven down by around 17 per cent as the public became more security-conscious following a high profile police advertising campaign across the city.

On Wednesday, two giant ad-vans will start in the car park of Tesco on County Road before moving around key locations in north and south Liverpool where they will warn would-be robbers and burglars that ‘One spray will put you away’ as well as offering crime prevention tips to passers-by.

The same messages will appear on buses and on billboards throughout the city this autumn as the police gear up with Liverpool city council to protect local residents and businesses during the busiest time of year for acquisitive crime.

Superintendent Jenny Sims , who has co-ordinated the operation along with Inspector Sue Stribling, said publicising the risks that criminals faced thanks to the technology was key to reducing acquisitive crime in the city.

She said: “With the nights drawing in and with Christmas fast approaching it is important that we do everything we can to protect local businesses from criminals who might be tempted to rob, burgle or steal from them.

“We also need to help residents know how they can best keep their homes safe and secure so that they do not become a tempting target for opportunistic thieves who spot a downstairs window left open or a back door unlocked.

“Last year we made some really positive inroads in terms of reducing robberies against businesses in our north Liverpool neighbourhoods by fitting hi-tech security devices in shops such as bookmakers, off-licences, convenience stores and jewellers which are most commonly targeted.

“Fogging devices which flood a shop with dense fog to disorientate an offender and DNA sprays mounted above doorways which stain a criminal’s skin and clothes with a unique but invisible dye are just some of the ways which have helped this reduction in crime.

“But the most important thing has been spreading the word that any shop might have one or more of these devices fitted and criminals face getting caught if they are foolish enough to try their luck.

“The forensic DNA sprays shower anyone trying to leave a shop they have just committed an offence in with an invisible dye which is unique to that particular shop. The dye stains your skin and clothing and cannot be washed off. It inextricably links a suspect to a crime and if when the police catch up with that person they will have a hard job explaining away the spray that officers reveal using a simple UV light.

“The fogging devices are equally effective and can prevent a criminal being successful by completely disorientating them and leaving them desperate just to get out of there. Used in conjunction with security alarms and responsible cash handling procedures, they have really helped protect businesses by making them unattractive prospects for criminals at a time of year when they might be feeling particularly vulnerable.”

Inspector Diane Pownall, the neighbourhood inspector for the County Road area said further reducing business robberies in the ward was now the main priority.

She said: “County Road is full of family-owned, local businesses providing useful services to so many people in the community so it is vital that the police and council work with them to reduce crime and not let criminals get a foothold.

“This is a close-knit community and when an incident happens at one shop word spreads and that can unsettle many others who understandably worry that they could be next.

“Neighbourhood officers have worked hard to use these existing links between businesses to spread the word about the crime prevention measures on offer.

“Neighbourhood teams have visited hundreds of addresses to give businesses practical advice and the force’s marketing and media campaign is further spreading the word. The feedback from previous victims is that they work hard to make a living and to provide for their family so why should a criminal take that away from them and risk putting them out of business?

“The aim of Operation Aquila is to ensure they don’t, but if they do, it is to ensure they get caught.”