Security Beat: State-of-the-Art Burglars Burn ‘Safe’ Safes

The day was Saturday, the weather stormy and the time 1:30 a.m. The place was a vacant office space above a nationally known retail jewelry store in a large eastern city. The office space had been rented for two weeks by burglars. The only noise, other than the wind-driven rain pelting the windows, was a saw cutting through the floor – the ceiling of the jewelry store below. The windows had been covered so the activities of the men in the room would not be detected by a passing police patrol.

Two hours earlier, one of these men climbed a telephone pole two blocks away to cut a wire, effectively disabling the store’s alarm system. He had little trouble finding the correct line because the phone company had marked it with a tag. The burglars observed the police and alarm company guard respond, check the premises and find no sign of forced entry.

Manager takes no action

The police officer called the store manager at home and said there was no sign of an attempted entry. The manager spoke with an alarm company representative and was told the problem was diagnosed as “telephone line trouble” and that the alarm system at the store had worked perfectly. The alarm company suggested the manager arrange for someone to remain on premises to protect the store until the phone company could repair the line, which wouldn’t be until Monday morning.

The store manager saw no need to respond – reasoning it was a waste of time and money to hire someone to remain at the store through the weekend. No one had tried to force his way in and the problem was probably caused by the bad weather, he reasoned. The alarm company said it would call the phone company to make repairs, so the manager went back to sleep.

Burglars take action

When the police and the alarm company guards left, the burglars returned to the second floor and cut through the ceiling. They dropped to the floor and burned open the safe. The reported loss was over $1 million.

This scenario has been repeated, with variations, many times by these very skillful burglars, dubbed the YACS by the FBI. YACS is an acronym for the birth countries of these criminals: Yugoslavia, Albania, Croatia and Serbia.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. became the new home for many criminals from former Soviet bloc nations. (This article is not intended to injure the reputation of immigrants from former Soviet bloc nations who have come to the U.S. legally and become loyal, productive citizens.) The criminal element discovered it was easy to get fraudulent immigration documents and travel to the U.S. They were eager to test their talents against our criminal justice system.

These groups have directed some of their talents at banks and ATM machines. This activity has drawn the attention of the federal authorities and resulted in the establishment of the FBI YACS Task Force, which has coordinated a national effort to apprehend and prosecute group members.

Since 1989, the YACS have been active in the northeastern U.S, especially New York City. They are suspected in over 40 burglaries against jewelers with estimated losses of over $50 million.

Burning bars

The YACS appear to be the first burglars to forcefully gain entry into a UL-rated, TRTL 30X6 safe. They accomplished this with a special tool originally used to burn through the hulls of ships sunk during World War II. The tool is called the Arcair Slice Pack and uses thin, hollow lengths of metal called “burning bars” that burn at 9,000º F. Steel melts at 2,500º.

The YACS are the only criminal group identified with the use of burning bars. However, police say YACS burglars who have been incarcerated are instructing other prisoners on the use of this highly effective burglary tool. Everything needed to operate the Arcair Slice Pack can be carried in a duffel bag. The police believe many YACS have been involved in the construction business and are capable of physical feats that require great strength and agility. They have been known to swing down to a targeted window by ropes attached to roof tops with grappling hooks.

Police also have determined the YACS are fond of targets near construction sites. Many of their victims’ locations had major construction projects under way in the same building, sometimes only a wall away. They are suspected of visiting a nearby site before their attack and hiding their burglary tools for use later.

They always use countersurveillance people, who most often sit in a vehicle observing the intended location. They maintain radio contact with the burglars and monitor police response with scanners. The burglars frequently enter the location through a wall, floor or ceiling.

After entering, they immediately place fast-acting glue in the locks of any doors law enforcement might use to get in. Then they establish an alternate avenue of escape.

Telephone Repairman or Thief?

The YACS, a group of skilled burglars that target jewelers, often disable alarm systems by cutting wires on a nearby telephone pole.

The YACS gangs, which are primarily located in metro-politan New York City, have also struck in Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida, California and Washington. They have attacked safes and vaults with sledgehammers, splitting wedges, pry bars, cutting wheels, chisels and drills.

But their favorite tool is the burning bar.

Avoid being ‘burned’

  • Always make arrangements for the protection of your business when notified of a signal by your alarm company, especially when the cause is diagnosed as “line trouble.”

  • Never leave your business unprotected. If your alarm system is not working properly, arrange for someone to remain on-site until repairs are made.

  • Learn who is occupying the space above, below and opposite the four walls of your business. Consult your alarm company for advice and additional protection.

  • Consider having two alarm companies, one to protect the perimeter and the other for area and safe protection.

  • If you have a vault, place your safe inside.

  • If you have only one safe, get another and place half your merchandise in each. This increases the time burglars need to crack them and reduces your loss potential.

  • Always maintain adequate insurance coverage.

For additional recommendations, jewelry industry members should read and follow recommendations in the JSA Manual of Jewelry Security, 1996-1997. See Chapter 4, “Burglary.” Jewelers’ Security Alliance, Six E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017; (800) 537-0067 or (212) 687-0328.