The Jewelers Security Alliance has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to create a new task force to fight a sharp increase in on-the-road jewelry robberies in the Southeast.
JSA officials made the formal request on behalf of the anti-jewelry-crime coalition (composed of major retailers, suppliers, and trade associations) at a late summer meeting with FBI officials. JSA suggested the task force be based in Atlanta, Ga. A reply from the FBI was expected by this month.
JSA president John Kennedy made the announcement on July 30 at the summer meeting of the coalition’s board during the Jewelers of America Show in New York City.
Total robberies of traveling jewelry salespeople have risen sharply in the first six months of 2001, according to JSA data. There were 120 reported incidents through June 30, for a total loss of $21 million, most of them by South American theft gangs operating in the United States. Both figures are substantially higher than figures for the first six months of 2000. Many of the crimes occurred in the Southeast.
The rise in crime in the Southeast is, ironically, a result of the crackdown by the FBI and local law enforcement (especially in the Los Angeles area) on South American theft gangs in California and the West over the past two years.
The industry coalition has successfully lobbied Congress for more money for the FBI’s anti-gem-theft efforts. Those resulted in significantly fewer thefts and lower losses during the past 18 months.
However, noted Kennedy, the crackdown there has led the South American theft gangs to shift to other parts of the country, especially the Southeast. Losses there have been sizable, including one for $2.7 million in West Palm Beach, Fla., in February and another for $1.5 million in San Antonio, Texas, in April.
The affected areas include Texas, Florida, North and South Carolina, and the Atlanta area.
Underlining the seriousness of the problem was the presence of several members of the Southern Jewelry Travelers Association (representing most jewelry salespeople in the South) at the July meeting of the coalition.
“We need help,” said one. “We’re becoming another Los Angeles.”