The FBI has formed a Gate Cutters Task Force, specifically targeting an organized criminal ring that has burglarized more than 55 mall retail jewelry stores since April 2003.
The task force, composed of federal, state, and local law enforcement, will target a gang known for breaking into malls, rolling down jewelers’ security gates, prying open display cases, and removing products not locked in a safe. The gang, which generally works in teams of four or five, usually targets men’s gold jewelry or watches and has struck primarily on the East Coast. Gang members frequently enter and exit the mall through fire exits in the hours before opening or after closing.
The FBI offered a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals responsible for these robberies. The jewelry industry offered an additional $25,000.
John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, spoke at the press conference announcing the task force and praised it as an example of the ongoing cooperation between the FBI, local police, and the jewelry industry. The press conference was covered on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America and CNN, as well as in USA Today and hundreds of newspapers.
In related news, recently signed legislation will create an Organized Retail Theft task force at the FBI. The new task force will work with the retail community to create a national database to identify where organized retail crimes are being committed. This will help the FBI identify hot spots of organized retail crime activity to more efficiently deploy agents and resources.
The bill also authorizes $5 million for the training of federal law enforcement agents to investigate and prosecute these crimes.
The National Retail Federation called the bill a significant win for retailers, who have been increasingly victimized by professional shoplifting gangs. Federal law enforcement authorities estimate that theft rings steal as much as $30 billion in merchandise from retail stores each year.