Jewelry Industry Wins Some Battles in War on Crime

The year 2009 had good news and bad news for the U.S. jewelry industry’s security.

The good news: Total dollar losses from crimes against U.S. jewelry firms shrank, attacks on traveling jewelry salespeople and on-the-road robbery losses fell sharply, and arrests of people suspected of jewelry industry crimes rose almost 23 percent.

The bad news: Total crimes increased 3.5 percent, and on-premises robberies—mostly of retail jewelers—rose 14.2 percent, with dollar losses up 27.1 percent. In addition, there was a sharp rise in break-ins through roofs and successful attacks on safes. Last year also saw an upsurge in near-fatal shootings of jewelers, customers, and robbers during robberies.

These facts come from the recently released “2009 Annual Crime Report” of Jewelers’ Security Alliance, available on JSA’s Web site at www.jewelerssecurity.org.

“Progress in reducing crimes against the jewelry industry doesn’t move uniformly or in a straight line,” JSA president John Kennedy told JCK. “This is a war on many fronts, which will never end. The good news is that in 2009, the jewelry industry won more battles than it lost in this never-ending fight.”

Following are some of the Details.

The drop in total dollar losses (down 5.6 percent, to $97.7 million) was largely the result of a significant fall in off-premises losses (down 42.2 percent) and crimes (down 26.7 percent). While there were no reported robberies or thefts at trunk and remount shows or at airports—both were crime hotspots a few years ago—most of the decline concerned traveling salespeople. Attacks on them (137 in 2009, down from 187 in 2008) fell almost 27 percent, to the lowest level since the 1980s. The main reasons, says JSA, are a sharp increase in activity by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies against theft gangs that prey on traveling salespeople and a significant decrease (because of the recession) in the number of salespersons on the road.

Stepped-up law enforcement and information-sharing also accounts for the increase in arrests in 2009, Kennedy says.

On the other hand, the 3.5 percent rise in on-premises crimes was affected by a high number of grab-and-run thefts and a 14.2 percent increase—to 250—in reported robberies. Many of the 359 grab-and-run incidents were committed by a small but growing number of amateur criminals, and some may be related to the recession. Meanwhile, robbery arrests were up 38 percent.

The increase in rooftop burglaries, most causing large losses, is noteworthy. They represented almost one in five burglaries,up from one in 16 in 2007. JSA received reports of 58 in 17 states, most in the Southeast, including 24 in Florida. Kennedy says most were committed by a few professional gangs who concentrate for a while on a single area or town. He notes that police have identified most of the gang members. In Florida, law enforcement officials have arrested several suspects from a gang believed responsible for many burglaries in that state.

One reason for successful burglaries was that burglars cut alarm-system wires before a signal could be sent. Most systems lacked line security, which automatically alerts the alarm monitoring station if criminals try to disable it.

Another reason, says the JSA report, is that many stores had UL-rated TL30 safes. These can be easily burned or cut open, and crooks have discovered they don’t need much skill to do that, Kennedy says. Indeed, the number of reported successful safe attacks has risen from 26 in nine states in 2007 to 38 in 23 states in 2009, a “substantial increase,” he notes.

“We’ve warned the industry, and will again, that a TL30 safe won’t protect them anymore,” says Kennedy. “Anyone who wants more protection needs a better safe, like a TRTL30X6.

Despite a drop in killings in the industry over the past 20 years, the violence that can occur during jewelry robberies is a continuing concern. Overall, there were fewer crime-related deaths in the jewelry industry in 2009 (seven, down from 11 in 2008), but three jewelers died compared to one in 2008. One in three reported robberies involved violence, three out of four with a gun.

Reports of near-fatal violence increased significantly, to 19, compared with three in 2008. Jewelers shot and wounded six robbers. Criminals shot and wounded eight jewelers, four customers, and a policeman during jewelry store robberies. An off-duty policeman, escorting a watch salesman, was in a shootout with a robbery gang, which wounded the officer and a gang member.

“These near-fatal incidents had the potential of adding 29 additional homicides to the industry total for 2009,” notes JSA, which urges jewelers not to resist during robberies.

A curious detail in 2009’s statistics is a “significant” increase in the use of knives, instead of handguns, by South American robbery gangs. This change, says the JSA report, “may be an effort to avoid more-severe sentencing guidelines for the use of a gun during the commission of a crime upon conviction in federal court.” It illustrates how more-severe sentences can affect those committing crimes against the jewelry industry.