How the GIA Is Training Law Enforcement—and Why They’re Interested

For most of last week, I was at Gemological Institute of America’s Carlsbad campus, getting an exclusive glimpse into the organization’s training sessions for law enforcement.

For those of you unfamiliar with this now-annual program, every year the GIA brings 20 or so officers, all personally selected by the FBI, to Carlsbad for training about the basics of our business, to better train them to stop jewelry-related crime. This year, the attendees included people from the FBI, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), local police, and even the Department of Homeland Security. 

For two weeks—which, everyone can agree, is a long time for professional people to be away from their desks—these agents get a pretty extensive crash course on diamonds, gems, and jewelry manufacturing. The day I attended covered hallmarks and how to melt down gold. The agents also learn how to determine the value of diamonds and other gems, and how the value of jewelry materials can be disguised. For example, at one point, the officers were surprised to learn that a box of bench shavings, which basically looks like dirt, is worth $12,000. At the end of the session, they were tested in how to grade a diamond’s color and clarity (without, one instructor noted, using master stones.)

It can be a little overwhelming, as even the program’s head, GIA director of corporate security Larry Wright, admits. “We give them a ton of material, and even if they don’t remember every single item, they know who they can call,” he says. But what was striking was how closely they all were paying attention, even to esoteric subjects like the history of hallmarks. It seems when you are in law enforcement, any fact can make the difference in solving a case or not. “The details are important,” says Wright. “You never know what hook will be the thread you pull.” 

The assembled agents told me they found the sessions extremely helpful, especially with criminals increasingly turning to gold and gems to launder money. They said it could help with everything from identifying stolen materials to undercover work. “The more I know as undercover operative,” said one officer, “the more I can convince the bad guys this is who I am.” 

Another DHS agent added: “This helps us know what a legitimate business model looks like. Because we can determine: Is this a legitimate business model, or are we looking at something that could be smuggling?”

I will have a lot more to report about this very worthy initiative in the June issue of JCK

JCK News Director