JSA urges FBI to set up Southeast task force

The Jewelers Security Alliance has resumed lobbying the federal government, on behalf of the industry’s anti-jewelry crime coalition, which it leads. JSA suspended lobbying after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and then delayed resumption while the FBI reorganized to focus on homeland security issues.

This year, in part due to Sept. 11, JSA is modifying its lobbying strategy, says JSA president John J. Kennedy.

First, it will urge the FBI to create a task force in the Southeast region of the country to fight robberies of traveling jewelry salespeople by South American gangs. Thefts are rising due to-ironically-a two-year crackdown by FBI and local law officials on theft gangs in California, especially Los Angeles. The gangs went elsewhere, especially the Southeast. Most affected are Texas, Florida, North and South Carolina, and the Atlanta area.

Second, JSA won’t lobby Congress this year, as it has successfully done in the past two years at a cost of $180,000, for more resources for the FBI’s crime fighting efforts. Congress has “so many [national] security issues on its plate” in the wake of Sept. 11, notes Kennedy, that JSA lobbying would get scant attention. (Ironically, the Sept. 11 tragedy had a beneficial effect on two areas of security long of concern to JSA. Those are a crackdown on illegal immigration-hindering entry of foreign jewelry thieves-and improved security at airports, traditionally an arena for jewelry thefts.)

Instead, JSA is “focusing on working closer” with the FBI, in an advisory capacity, to implement added resources and directions Congress recently gave the Bureau, thanks in large part to JSA’s efforts. The Congressional report on the 2002 budget, for example, directs the FBI to make on-the-road jewelry robberies by foreign theft gangs a top priority and to “continue to devote the necessary resources to disrupting these criminal enterprises.” One sign of JSA’s closer relationship with the FBI: The Bureau’s number two ranking official, Kathleen McChesney, executive assistant director of law enforcement, spoke at JSA’s annual luncheon on Jan. 12.

Third, JSA is doing more of what Kennedy calls “local lobbying”: Meeting with law enforcement officials in cities like Atlanta, Houston, or Charlotte, N.C., to “encourage them to give more attention to jewelry crime,” he says, especially robberies of traveling salespeople. JSA is also working closer with private fraternal associations of local law enforcement people around the country to make them more aware of jewelry thefts by sponsoring meetings, and providing speakers and materials.

Meanwhile, Kennedy notes that while the FBI shifted resources to fighting terrorism, it didn’t weaken its fight against jewelry crime. “We’re seeing great cooperation by the Bureau and a real desire to help industry fight jewelry thieves],” he says.

In October 2001, for example, the FBI arrested five men who attempted to rob a jewelry salesman on the Massachusetts turnpike. In November, the FBI and Ohio local law enforcement officials arrested a woman for stealing more than $1.2 million of jewelry from stores in Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Los Angeles, a task force composed of FBI and local officials who go after jewelry theft gangs, have resumed work on jewelry crimes after initially shifting some members to other security business.