Burglars Target N.Y., Calif., and Jewelers’ Homes

A pattern of high-tech jewelry burglaries in California and New York has created enough concern for the Jewelers’ Security Alliance to issue a bulletin alerting members to the crime wave. The bulletin includes a list of recommendations to help keep retail operations and manufacturing centers secure. Separately, JSA also warns of an increase in robberies at the homes of jewelers and traveling salespeople.

The high-tech crime spree has been going on for about four months, says JSA president John J. Kennedy. In both areas, burglars have disabled alarms or phone lines and burned through safes at temperatures as high as 900°F, mostly with burning rods.

In California the burglaries have occurred in retail jewelry operations, while in New York jewelry manufacturers have been targeted.

According to the bulletin, JSA has reported at least five confirmed cases in California and at least seven confirmed cases in New York (primarily in Manhattan and Queens), as well as reports of other cases that are similar.

“To see this many burglaries at one time is unusual, [especially] this concentration in parts of the country at the same time,” Kennedy says.

In the California cases where there were losses, the jewelry stores either didn’t have line security (an element in an alarm system that confirms it’s working), or the line security malfunctioned.

“What burglars do is cut the lines and wait a half hour. If no one comes, they enter the building,” Kennedy says.

In the four confirmed cases in New York where there were losses, the alarm company received a signal and responded. The burglars then waited for the security personnel to leave, and, with the alarm lines still malfunctioning, entered the building and then the vault.

JSA offers the following eight recommendations to combat this kind of high-tech crime:

  • If your alarm company notifies you that the alarm system has been cut off or is not operating, don’t leave the premises unprotected while the system is out of service. Either have someone stay in the building, or hire an armed guard until your alarm system is repaired. According to Kennedy, this is the most important precaution a company can take.

  • Leave the keys to your building with the alarm company. If security personnel can’t enter, it is extremely difficult for them to determine what is occurring inside the building. Also, be sure to store all jewelry merchandise in safes or vaults at night.

  • A jeweler with a significant amount of inventory should have two different alarm companies, in case one system is compromised. Use two different systems of transmission—for example, telephone lines and a radio backup in case a telephone line goes out. One system could protect the interior and one the exterior.

  • Make sure you have line security. That way, if burglars attempt to disable the alarm system, it will trigger an alarm. “If you do not have line security that is functioning, you do not have an effective alarm system,” the bulletin warns.

  • Make sure you understand the type of protection you are receiving—and be sure you’re getting what you paid for.

  • Test your alarm system periodically, and get confirmation that the alarm system is properly maintained.

  • Choose a UL-Listed central station alarm company.

  • Provide your alarm company with cell phone numbers where an owner and/or designated employees can be reached if security is breached.

In related news, JSA issued two alerts to members following a dramatic increase in robberies at the homes of jewelers and traveling salespeople. JSA recorded 20 such cases in 2002 and, at press time, at least two cases in 2003. In each case, a jeweler or traveling salesperson suffered a major loss or injury at his or her place of residence.

According to the bulletin, about half these cases involved retail jewelers: The robbers sought to bring the retailer back to the store to rob it or were after the jewelry kept at home. The other half of the cases involved traveling salespersons who were followed home and often robbed in their driveways. Among the most horrifying of these crimes was the highly publicized execution-style shooting deaths of five family members in their Livonia, Mich., home during a robbery. Two suspects are in custody.

JSA reminds everyone that security requires 24/7 vigilance and offers these security recommendations:

  • All attacks on jewelers’ homes are preceded by some form of casing. Jewelers should be alert at all times to the possibility of being watched or followed. Suspicious signs include people sitting in a car near the home or business for long periods of time, jewelers’ being followed when leaving the home or store, suspicious phone calls, and suspicious “customers” visiting the store.

  • Many jewelers keep a logbook of suspicious incidents at their business, in which employees record things that seem “not quite right.” Details such as license plate numbers, names used, times of incidents, physical descriptions, and other information may be helpful to police.

  • Family members should be trained not to give out information on the phone, not to open the door to unknown people, to be extremely careful regarding delivery personnel, and to watch for suspicious people watching the house. Even the youngest family members and temporary visitors, such as in-laws or babysitters, should be taught the importance of security and given specific instructions.

  • When selecting a residence, evaluate security issues such as a dead-end vs. heavily traveled street, closeness of neighbors, and the garage or parking setup. Make sure the residence is equipped with proper locks, an alarm system, and good lighting. Some jewelers recommend keeping a dog for warning and protection at home.

  • Large safes and jewelry merchandise should not be kept at home. Personal jewelry may be kept in a small, concealed safe in a floor or wall. Consider keeping valuable personal jewelry in a bank safe deposit box when it is not being used.

  • Extra eyes are always helpful. Trusted neighbors can help spot suspicious behavior by anyone who might be casing your store or residence. Discuss with them your special risks as a jeweler and enlist their assistance.

  • Screen, monitor, and supervise all household help very carefully. Cleaning personnel, lawn services, babysitters, painters, contractors, or any workers with access and knowledge of your household all pose some risk. Even if they are honest themselves, they may have boyfriends, spouses, relatives, or friends who are not, or they might unintentionally provide information to those who would target you. Background investigations are suggested when hiring a nanny or anyone who will have extensive contact with or residence in the household.

  • Have an unlisted and unpublished home phone number. Keep a charged cell phone with you at all times, including by your bedside at night.

  • Before any problem develops, establish contact with your local police department and get to know someone in a supervisory position. Explain to the supervisor or chief the special risks to jewelers so that if you do have a problem, you will be calling someone you know.

  • Consider having a family security code phrase that can be used to alert a family member on the phone to a crime problem. The code phrase should be one that will not raise the suspicions of criminals holding the jeweler or family hostage.