A $5 million 1715 “Lipinski” Stradivarius violin was stolen from Frank Almond, concert master for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The suspects used a TASER C2 Personal Protector to incapacitate Almond in order to steal the 300-year-old instrument a “literally and figuratively shocking crime,” exclaimed Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn in a press conference. The international media coverage was incredible given the value of this major art theft. The local news coverage was immediate hailing TASER as the local company that played a small but important role in solving this crime.
What made the violin so valuable is the rarity and excellence of the stringed instrument. The Stradivarius family produced about 650 of these instruments during the 17th and 18th century. Over the years many of the Stradivarius violins have been stolen and only a handful have ever been recovered, usually taking several years to track down the thieves. In this instance the Milwaukee PD and the FBI were able to work with TASER International and citizens of Milwaukee to track down the suspects and the violin in less than two weeks.
As the Milwaukee Police and the FBI began to conduct the investigation they reached out to us at TASER in order to identify possible suspects in the case. This was accomplished thanks to our Anti-Felon Identification tags (AFID). The AFID program enforces accountability for each use of a TASER device. This system releases dozens of confetti-sized markers upon discharge of a CEW cartridge. Each AFID contains a serial number that tracks back to the original purchaser of the cartridge. The large number of AFIDs and their small size makes it impractical to clean up. Therefore, law enforcement can pick up one AFID and contact TASER International for a complete trace on the serial number.
At the time of purchase, we verify the identity and background of the prospective buyer with the understanding that we will not release the information and it will be kept confidential unless a TASER device is used in the commission of a crime. This information proved invaluable during the investigation on the Stradivarius violin. “We worked very closely with TASER International who provided us invaluable information that the FBI was able to track down for us in Texas,” said Chief Flynn, “That information led us to an individual who had purchased this device.”
So how did it work? Well, you can actually watch these clips as they show in slow motion how the TASER deploys the AFIDs and the probes:
With the AFID information in hand, police traced the purchase back to Universal Knowledge Allah, a 36-year-old barber while a citizen tip led them to Salah Jones, a 41-year-old man convicted of previous art theft. These suspects led police to the home of an acquaintance, who had allowed the suspect to store a suitcase in his attic. With a search warrant police were able to find the suitcase in the attic with the contents being the Stradivarius.
“There are good days and there are bad days, today is a good day,” said Mayor Tom Barrett with an obvious sigh of relief.
While TASER technology was never created for criminal use, it’s good to see the TASER’s visionary foresight since 1994 allowed law enforcement to capture the suspects and get the violin back to its owners. Thank you Milwaukee Police and FBI!
UPDATE: We admit there is some very interesting comments regarding our Anti-Felon Identification system by Schneier on Security, a blog covering security and security technology, (and we appreciate the coverage BTW): Some of the posts are thought provoking while some comments are inaccurate such as the number of ID tags that deploy or using a plastic bag to catch the AFID confetti. We came up with AFID by the way well before our very first production unit of the AIR TASER model 34000 back in 1994. Let us know if you have any questions concerning accuracy.