An eastern North Carolina town has begun the ambitious task of collecting and bottling the unique smells of its citizens, for the creation of a “scent bank.”
It’s believed to be a first among the nation’s police departments.
Warsaw Police Chief Eric Southerland said the idea is to have the scents on hand in case someone gets lost in Warsaw, which has a population of 3,100. The town is 230 miles east of Charlotte, in Duplin County.
His department of 16 people has already bought 1,500 vials for scent collection, enough for half the town.
“We can order more when needed,” he said.
The smells are to be securely kept in a safe in his department’s evidence locker.
It’s voluntary program and non-invasive, requiring only a wipe of exposed skin and underarms with a piece of sterile gauze, he said. Still, Southerland noted this week that not one person has stepped up to be the first person in the bank. He believes they’re thinking if over.
“If people are not comfortable with us holding their scent, they can keep it themselves at home,” he said. “The difference is we can keep it from being contaminated.”
Social media response has been largely favorable to the idea, though Facebook poster Danny Tilghman couldn’t help but wonder: “How long before the ACLU starts crying about this?”
Missing children and lost adults with cognitive issues are the ones who’ll most likely benefit from the “Find My Family” program, the chief said. Each person’s scent is as unique as their DNA, making scent critical for searches involving police dogs.
It was a Warsaw canine officer, Isaiah Kennedy, who came up with the idea of a scent bank, after hearing in July that a Florida woman with dementia was found with the help of a specialized jar holding her scent.
Warsaw had a similar incident in 2016, but it ended badly. A man in his 50s with cognitive issues wandered from a local laundromat and was found drowned in a ditch. It took three days to find him, the chief said.
Southerland said he’s yet to hear of another town in the country that is building a scent bank.
As for the cost, he says the 1,500 bottles cost only $300.