Democracy at Work

During the past few months, we citizens have seen the best and the worst of the democratic process. In the presidential campaign, candidates courting voters have staked out extreme and divisive positions. By contrast, the jewelry industry is involved in a situation in which unity is mandatory to address a major issue affecting every segment of the business. It is the attack of organized crime against retailers, manufacturers, and wholesalers. It is an attack on the lives and livelihoods of everyone.

The jewelry industry is fortunate to have volunteer leaders able to take on this challenge. Bob Bridge of Ben Bridge Jewelers, Dave Downey of Downey Designs International, and John Kennedy of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance all deserve praise for leading an effort to counter a serious and growing problem: crime. These three have organized a coalition of retailers, manufacturers, and associations to mobilize for war against South American gangs that prey on retailers and their suppliers. Last year more than $70 million worth of goods (at wholesale value) was stolen. The average jewelry loss is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. By comparison, the average bank robbery nets somewhere between $4,000 and $7,500.

In March, Bridge, Downey, and Kennedy led a group of 25 members of the industry on a trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby our senators and representatives. I was pleased to be invited on this lobbying mission. The delegation, along with members of a law firm hired to help the jewelry industry lobby more effectively, broke up into smaller groups, and each group met with five or six members of Congress or their staffers to tell their personal stories.

Those stories had a common theme. The attacks and robberies were carried out by well-organized groups of thieves who station themselves near jewelry stores, trunk shows, or trade shows, watching for a vulnerable target. JSA, through its advisories, has done a terrific job educating the industry in the tactics the thieves use. But these South American gangs work quickly and efficiently and pose a threat beyond the resources of local law enforcement.

On our Washington visit, legislators and staffers listened to us thoughtfully and asked intelligent questions about the robberies. In some cases, the Capitol Hill staffers were well-versed in the issue. Others were unaware of the problem and reacted with shock and surprise. We asked for additional funding for the FBI to attack the leaders of these gangs. We want the same kind of effort that put John Gotti and other Mafia leaders away.

The lobbying delegation came away with positive feelings. Contrary to the negative image lobbying has among the public, I found the experience extraordinarily useful. Perhaps I’m na?, but the expressions of concern and interest among senators, representatives, and their staffs struck me as serious and genuine.

Our elected representatives respond to their constituencies. Please take a few moments and write your senators and representatives to ask for their help in addressing jewelry crime. Lives have been lost, and more will be unless we do something, because the level of violence is increasing. See page 296 in this issue for a pre-written letter that needs only your signature. You also can find the letter on our Web site at along with links to every member of Congress. It’s easy to make your voice heard. Please take the time to do it. And thank you!