Orange Balls as an Anti-Robbery Device

In Japan:

These balls full of orange paint are anti-theft devices. When someone robs a store, the clerk can throw the ball at the perp (or at the perp’s feet) so they’re easily identified after they escape.

Seems to me the best way to escape from a robbery would be to throw a bunch of orange balls at a crowd.

Posted on September 9, 2010 at 1:32 PM64 Comments


Nomadiq September 9, 2010 1:52 PM

Maybe not. Any innocent person hit by a ball would be highly motivated to not act like a criminal (by trying to leave the scene, possibly being shot by doing so) and submit to verification that they are not the perpetrator to authorities. The perpetrator has no option but to run to avoid further inquiry into who they are and why they are covered in paint.

Plus, innocent, paint-covered people may have higher motivation to apprehend the perp for police at the scene in order to avoid their own suspicion (and time waste). Involvement of others in a perps crime is potentially dangerous and subject to revenge behavior.

I would be very interested to see the results of an objective study on this though.

Ben C. September 9, 2010 1:59 PM

Besides, this seems designed more to deter small time shoplifting than organized and premeditated robbery. Sure, it’s easy to get around with enough planning, but it’s simple, cheap, noninvasive, nonviolent, and actually stands a chance of helping stop the kind of idiot who grabs the Wii in the display rack and sprints for the door. Seems like a win to me.

Helly September 9, 2010 2:08 PM

I might be grossly misjudging the average individuals ability to accurately throw a ball. But I suspect you will quickly have shop owners, with orange splattered walls, and rather shocked innocent bystanders. Certainly an entertaining and innovative approach however.

Bruce Schneier September 9, 2010 2:09 PM

“Maybe not. Any innocent person hit by a ball would be highly motivated to not act like a criminal (by trying to leave the scene, possibly being shot by doing so) and submit to verification that they are not the perpetrator to authorities.”

The goal of the robber is to get away. A dozen random potential suspects will make that a lot easier.

Erin W September 9, 2010 2:21 PM

@ MarkP

Because it’s Japan, not the US. Gun ownership is heavily restricted. Not to mention, shooting a shoplifter who’s running away in the US is a crime, too. You’re not allowed to escalate that way.

Jonas September 9, 2010 2:22 PM

“Why throw an orange ball when you could shoot the perp?”

Obvious? — the paint is non-lethal. — Though I wonder about the paint getting in the eyes, or open sores. — etc.b

David September 9, 2010 2:24 PM

It seems to me that “marking” such as this would only be effective if the exact coloration and/or symbol is not known ahead of time by potential perps. It would also mean that it would have to change on a (daily?) basis or some such. This is similar to places that allow reentry to venues by paying customers and use some sort of code or stamping (on the hand usually).
Of course taking the time to ask the owner what marking they used (if they are alive) would use up valuable time.

David Cornwell September 9, 2010 2:34 PM

Of course an alternative is to throw balls at everyone except the perp. That way he would stand out because he is not orange.

Guy September 9, 2010 2:43 PM

The way I see this going down if it were tried in the U.S. is that the robber shows up with a gun, and threatens that he’ll shoot the clerk if he throws the orange ball, and then asks for the cash, as usual. The clerk then has little incentive to throw the ball (possibly preventing the loss of a minimum-wage job), but huge disincentive (the percent of robbers that follow through on the threat * the value of the clerks life).

matt September 9, 2010 2:43 PM

“Of course an alternative is to throw balls at everyone except the perp. That way he would stand out because he is not orange.”

White-listing! Or rather, orange-listing!

Jess September 9, 2010 2:54 PM

I should have a sack of these on my bike. Then every time I get left-crossed, right-hooked, or merged off the road, voilà, orange car! Pretty soon we’ll know at a glance which cars are driven by people whose mental deficiencies make it impossible for them to share the road.

Nomadiq September 9, 2010 3:13 PM

“The goal of the robber is to get away. A dozen random potential suspects will make that a lot easier.”

I disagree. Only if the random suspects act just like the robber would this be true. I guess it comes down to degrees. Yes, I agree it would make it easier. I don’t agree it would make it a lot easier.

Stinky September 9, 2010 3:17 PM

The paint supposedly smells bad also, and the police have dogs that can pick up on the odor.

If they had them here in the USA, kids would buy them and throw them at each other.

Why not just put spray nozzles at the doorway which could be activated from the register?

Robert September 9, 2010 3:22 PM

You could just take off the article of clothing that has the paint. Wear a jacket, ditch the jacket, and walk away as if nothing happened.

The Archon September 9, 2010 3:23 PM

“The way I see this going down if it were tried in the U.S. is that the robber shows up with a gun, and threatens that he’ll shoot the clerk if he throws the orange ball, and then asks for the cash, as usual.”

If even that. If I guy points a gun at me, do you think I’m gonna throw something at him and risk provoking him? If his projectile weapon beats mine, then hell no.

MarkP September 9, 2010 3:33 PM

Yes, I realize the gun laws are ridiculously strict in Japan. It’s a shame the gov’t there has disarmed the citizens so they can’t even protect their property.

Harry September 9, 2010 3:43 PM

If I were one of the innocent bystanders I’d be more inclined to figuratively spit in the polices’ faces than cooperate. They have to prove I’m guilty, I do not have to prove my innocence.

Being one of only 20 possible suspects does not entitle the police to search me without a warrant. The Supreme Court said so, in a case about a teacher’s wallet that was stolen by one of the 20 students. (I don’t have the case name with me right now.)

Champs September 9, 2010 4:55 PM

@Jess: If you’re getting right-crossed on a bike, you should be riding in the rightmost non-turning lane.

But back to the story at hand. Playing this relatively straight like a dumb criminal, there’s a few counter-tactics:

Banks with orange-painted customers could also detain everyone inside for… let’s say… an hour. The perp will either not be in the bank and brightly colored, or need to be good at hiding in plain sight.

Perps could also wear a clean room “bunny suit.” They will leave behind even less useful DNA evidence, and incinerating the suit after stuffing it in a plastic bag would eliminate most traces.

BF Skinner September 9, 2010 5:14 PM

@Bruce “The goal of the robber is to get away.”

Not entirely. The goal of the robber is to get away with something of value. During a Pizza Hut robbery the manager refused to give up the safe. So the two robbers took their value by a sexual assault of the waitress.

If you give them something of value then yeah they want to leave.

If you interfere with them by marking them with a dye pack the risk of personal harm increases.

And WHY would you ‘shoot’ a robber? Mark? unless you just want to shoot people (which makes you psyco/sociopathic and if so join Blackwater get into to a mercenary assault and die already, for crying out loud) or even throw a ball of paint at them.

Are you defending YOUR property? No? Your livelihood? No? Unless the store is yours EVERYTHING in here is covered by the corporations insurance. Let them pay for the loss. It’s why they’ve transfered the risk to the insurance co. If the Insurance co. doesn’t want to pay out let them post guards or hire Mark.

RF September 9, 2010 5:16 PM

Not all sensible security is airtight. This is probably useful against your basic shoplifter who isn’t into countermeasures. (It has the smell of an idea that’s implemented more because it’s attractive to shopkeepers than because it’s proven. But my problem with it is not that a clever criminal could outwit it, because statistically, clever criminals are a small part of the problem.)

Rick September 9, 2010 5:35 PM

People please keep in mind that the best way to live through a robbery is to give them what they want and let the insurance deal with the loss. In addition if you throw anything at the robber you are engaging in the violence and could make it worse. Also legaly if you throw anything and I mean ANYTHING at a robber, thief or other that is already retreating, YOU are now guilty of agg. battery which is a felony. The threat ended the minute they turned to run away. I beg all of you to do your research on inocent people that are in prison due to this law. BE CAREFUL, just let them go unless you feel they really are going to kill you, in this scenerio you must shoot to kill while they face you, not while running away or you will find yourself having alot of time to think about it…in jail!

Robert September 9, 2010 8:17 PM

I’m confused:
If the robber does not have a gun then what motivates the bank / store whatever to hand over their cash?

If the robber does have a gun, then throwing orange paint balls at him seems like an incredible act of stupidity.

What am I missing here?

Robert September 9, 2010 8:45 PM

“Also legaly if you throw anything and I mean ANYTHING at a robber, thief or other that is already retreating, YOU are now guilty of agg. battery which is a felony.”

I was mugged in one night and the young perp (maybe 17) was more nervous than I was and waving the gun all over the place, so I decided that the next time the barrel pointed away from me I’d charge against his arm (he was sitting in a car and I was scared that I’d get shot even if I complied ). I practically broke the guys arm (disarming him) and with the Adrenalin pumping I pulled the trigger with the gun pointed directly at this kids head. Luckily the dump kid had loaded the wrong ammo so nothing happened.

But the police tried to charge me for using excessive force disarming him….The detective also told me how lucky I was that the gun did not fire, especially with the perp being a minor…

Davi Ottenheimer September 10, 2010 1:06 AM

Funny, I was just thinking the other day, while reviewing surveillance camera footage, how convenient it would be to fire paint balls from the camera.

I think the idea was first put in my head by a candid camera episode where graffiti artists were surprised when the wall fired paint back at them. It was funny, but it increasingly seems like a really good idea.

Get too close and get tagged.

BadBookseller September 10, 2010 3:02 AM

This is a better idea in a country, like Japan, where very few perps are going to have guns.
A clerk in the US tossing these balls at any criminals over the age of 10 is taking a small, but notable, risk of getting ventilated with lead by an enraged criminal.
Frankly, as polite and conservative as most Japanese are, I’m amazed they even have to worry about this kind of thing.

Morten September 10, 2010 3:23 AM

@LSz: the trick is old hat, that blog is at least 10 years late. It’s probably been used extensively by phishers for all that time to produce valid-looking landing pages.

@Steve keller: which is exactly why this is a remarkably silly invention. Probably patented though so don’t try this at home or they’ll sue you. 🙂

Thomas September 10, 2010 4:20 AM

Why does the company only offer “orange”? So that robbers will buy as well. Later on (when the orange ball market is satisfied) offer another color… Maximizing profit.

Mooman September 10, 2010 4:58 AM

No doubt the laws we have in the UK would see to it that thief ‘victim’ could sue for damages to their clothing and assault.

Volker Hetzer September 10, 2010 6:02 AM

@MarkP: Because japan’s a civilized country
@Harry: You don’t have to. The shop assistant is very likely to remember whether he was aiming at you (standing around) or someone else (running away).

Stephen Paulger September 10, 2010 8:08 AM

So these bad smelling paint balls. How easy is it to wash off? Because if it’s not easy then as well as losing stock to theft the shop will also damage other stock and make their shop smell bad.

Also if the balls are kept where they can be quickly accessed by a clerk they would probably just get stolen.

Geek Prophet September 10, 2010 8:30 AM

@Robert: “You could just take off the article of clothing that has the paint. Wear a jacket, ditch the jacket, and walk away as if nothing happened.”

Could you? Yes, if paint only got on the jacket. But can you imagine trying to flee the scene of a crime while changing your pants?

Looking at this discussion, I am forced to conclude that part of the problem here is a confusion between the words “robber” and “thief”. These words are being used as if they are interchangeable too often these days, but the distinction is important. These paint balls may be a good idea against a thief, someone who snatches store property and runs, but they are not so great against a robber, a person who uses the threat of violence to force you to give them your property.

Most of the objections are a bit silly. This is an anti-shoplifting device, designed to make it hard to walk away with something you have grabbed off the shelf in a convenience store. It is designed so that police can easily spot someone who just left the area after grabbing small items from a 7-11, such as a cell phone charger or a soda.

It won’t work if you have time to change your clothes. It isn’t to be used on armed people, or even big guys who threatened to beat you up if you didn’t give them the money. If the thief brought along a bunch of his own paint balls, or a bunny suit, he is putting too much effort into stealing a bag of chips and a Slurpee.

No One September 10, 2010 8:41 AM

“But can you imagine trying to flee the scene of a crime while changing your pants?”

Yes. Wear rip-off track pants as well. Also, since you’re in Japan it’s easy to obtain the little booties to cover your shoes. A pair of cheap gloves keep your hands clean and all you’re left with is what gets on your head — a motorcycle helmet here wouldn’t be too out-of-place, since it is Japan, and would conceal you from the cameras better.

So no, it’s not that tough to be impervious to this effort without invoking a bunny suit proper.

You’re right, however, that this is a deterrent against low-level shoplifting rather than proper armed robbery and I think most of us are analyzing it in the context of theft at 7-11 being armed robbery for the cash register rather than for (the equivalent of) dine-and-ditch.

MV September 10, 2010 9:06 AM

Why throw an orange ball when you could shoot the perp?

people, do not feed the troll 🙂

I love the simplicity of the idea behing these balls. great deterrant and even if they are used in a way Bruce mentioned, the police would hopefully only have a handful of coloured people, and the shop clerk’s description of the robber.

cdmiller September 10, 2010 10:45 AM

@BF_Skinner etc.

Why shoot a robber? Perhaps so they won’t rob or RAPE anyone else. Obviously it’s risky to employ force against a robber. However, if a reasonable chance presents itself to stop the bad guys (shooting, tripping, orange paint) why not consider the moral obligation to the rest of society and do it?

David Thornley September 10, 2010 1:00 PM

What interests me here is collateral damage. What happens if the clerk hits the wrong person, or the paint spatters? You’ve then got a customer who has bad-smelling orange paint on his or her clothes, and who may be unhappy about that. Japanese culture may discourage making a fuss about that, at least in public, but I’d hold a grudge.

Not to mention that, with the balls conveniently on the counter, what happens if somebody grabs them and runs? Anti-social people could have great fun with balls with orange paint that smells bad and attracts police dogs.

Mike S September 10, 2010 1:21 PM

I imagine a robber with any amount of motivation would simply make getting control of the orange ball his first priority. Particularly when the ball is right on the counter. And when it’s back on a shelf, he’d punch the clerk on his way to the ball.

I’ve never seen a Japanese hold-up. How do they intimidate the clerk without weapons?

Jess September 10, 2010 4:31 PM


When I say “right-hook”, I mean the maneuver wherein a driver who intends to turn right off a street notices that a slower cyclist ahead of him will occlude the driveway when he would reach it if he drove at a normal speed. The reasonable reaction would be to just wait until the cyclist clears the driveway, which takes less than a second and would be the reaction elicited by any other vehicle. The right-hooking driver, however, prefers to accelerate, pass the cyclist, then quickly turn so that his car obstructs the lane and the driveway, preferably performing this maneuver within feet of the cyclist. The proper response, of course, is to pass on the left, and with experience one sees this calamity coming in time to prepare for it. If you haven’t ridden enough to have seen this happen multiple times, you might want to dial back on the unsolicited bike safety tips.

“Left-crossing” of course is practiced by inattentive drivers coming from the opposite lane. Neither the right-hook nor the left-cross may be prevented by the cyclist (wear bright colors! and a helmet! lulz), but by paying attention she can deal with them. If you mean the same thing by “right-cross” as I do, it’s also a result of driver inattention, and I don’t think your advice is particularly helpful for avoiding it.

Gweihir September 10, 2010 4:44 PM

Some people here need to look up the term “deterrent”. Hint: It does not have to work, it just needs to look like it would work. Remember that criminals are generally stupid.

J September 10, 2010 5:15 PM

Don’t you think while robber is demanding cash at the counter he can demand for all the orange balls? Steal cash and all the balls while you are robbing and while running away from the place, throw those balls at random people..

Who will control the sell of these balls? Who will ensure the authenticity of these balls?

Nick P September 11, 2010 12:03 PM

In America, we just use concealed weapons. Well, at least in the states with balls. 😉 A watchful eye and a bulge in my jacket has kept me from being attacked in certain spots. I don’t know if orange paint would have done as well: they’d probably just steal that too.

Pete September 12, 2010 1:05 PM

I can’t believe that the Japanese go for such a low-tech solution – surely they could design a delivery system (maybe employing chemical propellants) to more accurately and rapidly mark the robber. And by using a harder case of, say copper, rather than whatever that weak orange shell is made of, they would further slow the escapee by imparting all that kinetic energy. Even better – fill the copper shell with lead, and you’ve got a far more efficient system.

I’m inclined to rush out and patent this idea, but I don’t imagine any sane governement would allow anything so dangerous into the public domain.

Tom Dibble September 13, 2010 5:37 AM

@Geek Prophet: “This is an anti-shoplifting device, designed to make it hard to walk away with something you have grabbed off the shelf in a convenience store.”


Any of you guys ever seen a minimum-wage WalMart employee booking out across the parking lot after a shoplifter, trying to tackle them before they get far enough away? It’s a stupid and dangerous thing to do (and IMHO WalMart should be sued for telling its employees to do this), and at least half of the time the guy gets away. The idea here is that when they say “hey you!” and the guy looks at them and runs, they whip out a ball and mark him, then let the local police handle the rest.

On the other hand, I still don’t see it working. I mean, is an orange splotch on someone going to be sufficient cause for the police to stop them for questioning? Given the general resources devoted to tracking down shoplifters and similar low-value criminals, I doubt anything would come of this.

But, still, no one wants to be marked with paint, so it would likely work as a deterrent.

In any case, folks, the story here is not about a confrontational criminal who has demanded something. It is about the kind of criminal who wants to get away without having been noticed.

BW September 13, 2010 1:43 PM

So the robber gets marked, then marks some pedestrians and hands the goods to an unmarked partner. The unmarked partner gets away and marked blends in with the marked crowd.

Wayne September 13, 2010 2:22 PM


Excessive force in de-arming would have been easy to get out of. Now if you had shot him, it would have sucked to be you.

Tom_23 September 13, 2010 5:46 PM

I think Tom Dibble got it right. It is a deterrent for those individuals who may entertain the thought of shoplifting but would be completely embarrassed if caught. I think this not for your Walmart/Home Depot but more of a small convenience store.
And for those of you that watch too much TV,
“Goodnight and big balls.”

Marche Hare September 15, 2010 12:06 PM

This sounds a little like the anti-riot gear in the webcomic Templar, AZ. The cops shoot the perpetrators with paintballs that have a distinctive color and odor. Of course, the paint rubs off (including on other people), clothing can be removed/changed, and even the face can be protected by simply wearing a false beard.

maxh September 15, 2010 5:42 PM

I suspect you are referring to DesRoches v. Caprio (though in that case it was another student’s shoes, rather than a teacher’s wallet).

Keith September 17, 2010 12:39 PM

It seems like a small position tracking device stuffed in a wad of cash would be more effective. The robber puts it in his pocket or bag or whatever, gets well out of the store and doesn’t know he’s being followed until he takes out the cash to count it. Of course after he does he can just throw it away, but if it’s cheap enough then the chance of success may justify the cost. And if he doesn’t find it until he’s home you’ve found him anyway. Even if the defense was known about, it may be easy to forget about in the heat of the moment.

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