FBI expands fight against jewelry and gem crimes

There are now nine FBI-led Task Forces investigating major theft crimes including jewelry and gems, in a major initiative against Organized Retail Theft (ORT) by criminals. These are in addition to existing initiatives in several cities involving local police and the FBI.

This expansion of the FBI’s efforts was described by FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker in testimony March 17, before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He specifically cited jewelry and gem theft as one of ORT’s targets.

“These task forces are responsible for conducting investigations of all major theft violations to include retail, cargo, vehicle, and jewelry and gem theft,” Swecker said. They combine the resources of local, state, and federal law enforcement, as well as that of manufacturing and retail security personnel. In addition, they’ll use investigative techniques and strategies used successfully by the FBI against traditional organized crime, Swecker said, such as “development of a solid intelligence base, use of undercover operations, and electronic surveillance techniques.”

The new task forces, said Swecker, are led by FBI field offices in Houston; Memphis, Tenn.; Miami (two); Newark, N.Y.; New York; Philadelphia; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C. For those FBI field offices that don’t currently have formal Major Theft Task Forces, he said, “significant ORT investigations are being conducted by criminal enterprise squads.” (In addition, police/FBI initiatives more specifically focused on jewelry and gem crimes have existed for a few years in New York City, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and Miami.)

John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, praised the FBI’s ORT initiative: “The jewelry industry has been very happy to see the FBI becoming more and more involved in the fight against jewelry crime,” he said.

“Compared to a few years ago, enforcement efforts today by the FBI, in cooperation with local police and jewelry-industry security personnel, are far more intensive and effective. Having nine more Task Forces which have a special interest in the jewelry industry will be a huge help.”

Kennedy cited statistics from 2005’s first quarter as evidence of law enforcement’s successes in the war on jewelry crime. “Following a double-digit decline in crime against the jewelry industry in 2004, we have continued to see excellent results in the first quarter of 2005,” he said. “For the first three months of 2005, the number of crimes in the U.S. against jewelry firms decreased by 15.8% compared to the same period last year.

“This remarkable decline in crime against jewelers is directly a result of the dedicated and cooperative efforts by federal and local law-enforcement agencies,” he said, “especially the task forces and [the FBI’s] outstanding interest in jewelry [crimes] that we have seen for several years in Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and New York City.”