Industry / Retail

As Smash-and-Grabs Spike, How Worried Should You Be?


A rash of high-profile smash-and-grab thefts have put jewelers on their guard, but Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA) president John Kennedy says that, while jewelers need to take proper precautions, industry-related crime still remains at historically low levels.

“The high-profile crimes have scared people, appropriately so,” he says. “But in terms of the total number of crimes, the numbers are normal to down. It’s just certain categories are up. Grab-and-runs are way up.”

He notes that, since last May, there have been 23 smash-and-grabs in California, a high number. Recently, there have been similar smash-and-grab thefts in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.

There has also been a surge of grab-and-runs. The difference: Smash-and-grabs involve someone smashing a case and taking goods from it. Grab-and-runs involve someone being shown a piece of jewelry, then running out the door with it. Tips for avoiding grab-and-runs can be seen here.

In a recent case, a man in Texas ran out of a mall jewelry store with a gold chain after talking on the phone (pictured). JSA notes that a customer talking on the phone is a red flag that should put associates on their guard.

Certain factors unique to the COVID-19 era have likely increased the number of these kinds of low-level crimes, he says.

With more people wearing masks, crooks may feel that they have more leeway to commit crimes—though, in most cases, masks don’t actually disguise the thief’s identity. In addition, people in desperate economic straits may be tempted to commit jewelry crimes—which have traditionally been relegated to so-called professionals.

But there are also several areas where crime is down. The decrease in travel has meant less “distraction thefts,” which are typically committed by people from Eastern Europe, Kennedy says.

“Dangerous crimes are not up,” he adds. “Just think of how fewer salespeople are on the road. Just think of how fewer public events there have been.”

The JSA offers the following tips to avoid being the target of smash-and-grabs:

– Jewelers should have burglary-resistant, laminated glass on the front and sides of their showcases, which can withstand hammer blows. This will limit losses.

– Jewelers should have an audible glass-breakage alarm on their showcases, which can scare robbers away.

– Spread high-end watch and loose diamond merchandise among several showcases, rather than concentrate it all in one case. This can also reduce potential losses.

– If smash-and-grab gangs are known to be active, jewelers should avoid the temptation to display all merchandise, and keep some in a safe.

– Buzzers on the door can help keep out potential robbers.

– Another good deterrent: hiring armed, off-duty police officers to act as security guards.

– Jewelers should keep a log book of suspicious incidents, and save surveillance video of those incidents. They should also share information and photos with local jewelers and police and the JSA.

– If you are the target of a smash-and-grab, do not resist. The suspects may be carrying guns as well as sledgehammers.

More crime-prevention tips can be found on the JSA’s website.

Top: Surveillance footage of a robbery suspect at a jewelry store in Texas (photo courtesy of Jewelers’ Security Alliance)

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By: Rob Bates

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