JCK’s Person of the year John J. Kennedy

Security and vigilance: Until recently, most Americans barely gave either a passing thought. But in the months since the September 11 attacks, both have become household words.

Within the U.S. jewelry trade, however, these have always been of vital interest, and for more than a century, the Jewelers’ Security Alliance has dedicated itself to making the industry safer and more secure. Some of JSA’s most significant accomplishments, though, have come just in the past few years.

Since 1993, under the leadership of president John J. Kennedy, the efforts of the national nonprofit JSA have contributed to a sharp drop in murders and crimes against industry personnel, an increase in prosecutions of criminals who prey on traveling salespeople, more federal funding for the FBI’s fight against gem thieves, and more security and crime prevention information for jewelers and law enforcement officials than ever before.

Neither Kennedy nor JSA’s staff and officials seek applause for their efforts. That’s not their style. But they quietly and effectively increase the security of the jewelry industry—365 days a year, year in and year out.

For these efforts—and for the positive impact the JSA under Kennedy’s firm, thoughtful, and consistent leadership has had on the entire industry—the editors of JCK have chosen to salute John J. Kennedy as our Person of the Year for 2001.

Well-suited. Kennedy joined JSA full time in January 1992 as the designated successor of longtime JSA president James B. White, and he took over the post in 1993. Joining JSA seemed almost foreordained: Not only did he and White go to the same college, work for the same law firm (at different times), and—he learned later—have family connections to the same parish, they also share the same birthday—April 25.

Coincidence aside, Kennedy’s legal expertise made him an obvious choice for leader of the industry’s security agency. Prior to joining JSA, Kennedy was assistant commissioner and deputy general counsel for the New York City Department of Investigation. He served in various posts in law enforcement, government, and academia, including assistant counsel for the New York State Commission of Investigation and chairman of the department of criminal justice at Jersey City State College. He’s a member of the Burglary Protection Council of the nonprofit century-old Underwriters Laboratories Inc., which tests and certifies safes and other security products.

Crime decline. JSA, founded in 1883, compiled an impressive record of achievements under Kennedy’s predecessors. But in the past few years, under Kennedy, its primary mission—providing crime and security information and assistance—has become a valuable weapon in the fight against jewelry crime.

The most obvious impact can be seen in the industry’s crime statistics. Thanks in large part to JSA’s aggressive dissemination of crime prevention information (via crime alert bulletins, publications, and seminars), its hotline, and its work with law enforcement, jewelry crime is down in most categories. Murders in the industry are down 75% since 1991, dropping from 37 to 9—a 20-year low. Reported burglaries, robberies, and thefts are down 26%, from 1,550 in 1994 to 1,143 in 2000. Attacks on traveling salespeople and couriers fell 44% between 1999 and 2000. There are far fewer robberies of retailers by South American theft gangs, and some types of crime have almost disappeared. For example, overnight burglaries of jewelry manufacturers’ safes in the New York City area were a major problem in the early ’90s; now, there are almost none.

Crime hasn’t disappeared, of course, and in some respects, it is worse: Robberies of traveling salespeople are more violent today than a few years ago. But JSA continues to adjust and to adapt its weapons to counter the changing methods of criminals.

Evident changes. Recent changes in JSA under Kennedy and its board of directors have been particularly evident in five areas:

  • Law enforcement support. In recent years, Kennedy and JSA have forged closer ties with local and federal law enforcement officials and agencies, especially the FBI. The goal: to raise awareness of JSA and the needs of the jewelry industry. “Never before has there been a time in the industry when law enforcement was as eager and willing to pursue jewelry cases as now,” Kennedy notes.
    He credits much of that willingness to the work of JSA vice president Robert W. Frank, the tough, veteran New York City homicide detective whom Kennedy brought into JSA in 1992 to serve as liaison to law enforcement officials. Frank is in frequent contact with them and speaks often at their meetings and seminars. “It is a matter of getting friendly with them, so they know us, and constantly helping them [with JSA’s information and input], so that when we ask for their help, they do it,” says Kennedy.
    Results of these closer ties include this year’s first-ever invitation to JSA to lecture at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., and the formation two years ago by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department of a task force to fight South American theft gangs. The FBI is now considering a JSA request to set up another task force in the Southeast, where the gangs have become more active.

  • Political lobbying. Some of this growing support from law enforcement is a direct result of JSA’s new lobbying efforts. In 1999, alarmed by a sharp rise in violent crimes by theft gangs against traveling jewelry salespeople and at trunk shows, JSA led an industry coalition to lobby government officials for tougher action to stop such crimes and to inform the public of the severity of the problem.
    This was something new for the publicity-shy JSA, but the lobbying persuaded Congress to boost funding for FBI crime fighting, helped make fighting jewelry theft gangs a priority, and encouraged the FBI and local law enforcement to intensify their fight against jewelry criminals (leading to some successful prosecutions). The industry contributed $200,000 to the effort, and industry leaders joined in lobbying Congress and federal and local officials.

  • Public relations. Until recently, JSA and the industry kept quiet about jewelry industry losses and didn’t even release crime statistics. Over the past few years, however, it has maintained an intensive media campaign to make the public, politicians, and law enforcement officials aware of the severity of jewelry crime. Among the facts: Jewelry theft losses average close to $300,000 per incident, compared with $3,000 for the average bank robbery.
    “We give a lot of time to the media to reach people outside the trade, whom we wouldn’t know or reach otherwise, and to inform members [who read the stories] of what we are doing for them,” says Kennedy, who now gives scores of interviews annually to the consumer press. Stories about JSA and the jewelry industry have appeared in major U.S. newspapers, such as theWashington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, and Oregonian, as well as Newsweek magazine.

  • Crime prevention information. JSA’s primary mission is to provide crime prevention information and assistance to the jewelry industry and law enforcement officials. For years, it has sent bulletins about jewelry criminals who have been arrested and jailed to its members and to law enforcement agencies.
    But under Kennedy’s direction, JSA has significantly expanded the means by which it informs people. Since 1995, it has published a semiannual newsletter that’s supported with paid advertising by suppliers of security services and products. It also publishes the Manual of Jewelry Security, introduced in 1995. A revised and updated edition of the 152-page paperback—the only book in the world on jewelry security—is due out this year. Also available (since 1999) is an annual statistical report on “Crime Against the Jewelry Industry in the United States,” as well as JSA’s “Directory of Security Products and Services for the Jewelry Industry,” published this year for the first time.
    In addition, JSA’s tiny staff, including Kennedy, answers thousands of requests for security information from jewelers by phone, e-mail, fax, letters, and in-person visits.

  • Use of technology. In late 1996, Kennedy led JSA’s first-ever fundraising drive, a three-year effort to raise capital to upgrade its crime-fighting technology, improve operational efficiency, and expand the means by which it informs members and supporters. The $600,000 raised is now “being spent judiciously,” Kennedy says, and “will last well into this decade.”

The first fruits of this capital campaign are already in place, enhancing JSA services to the industry. They include a new network of computer systems at JSA’s New York City office; a customized, computerized marketing management system with the names of more than 6,000 JSA supporters and potential members; e-mail and fax crime alert services; and the JSA Web site (www.jewelersecurity.org), launched in 1999. Though JSA hasn’t actively promoted the site, it is visited annually by thousands of people, including members of the consumer press and the general public. In fact, says Kennedy, JSA’s Web site is “the main way the consumer press learns of us and contacts us.”

The Web site is an electronic cornucopia of information. Features include JSA’s “Most Wanted” jewelry criminals (with pictures and descriptions); current crime statistics sorted by date, amount, town, and state; directory of security products and services; alerts on stolen jewelry; crime prevention bulletins and newsletters; and forms for reporting criminal incidents, enrolling in the organization, and ordering the Manual of Jewelry Security.

More people are using the Web site to report crimes quickly and to sign up for membership, says Kennedy, but he notes that the single most viewed and used page is JSA’s directory of security products and services.

What’s next? Here are some of the activities JSA is considering for the next five years:

The group will remain a domestic organization, says Kennedy: “We considered going international and rejected it. It would be just too complicated.” JSA will continue to answer requests from other countries for security advice and will include in its annual crime report information about major losses and crimes in the global jewelry industry.

In addition, says Kennedy, JSA officials have discussed creating a computer database listing stolen jewelry, for use by jewelers and law enforcement agencies. The effort would involve cooperation with major jewelry labs as well as with insurance and law enforcement officials and would be “quite expensive and complicated,” Kennedy notes. No date has been set for implementation of the project.

JSA may also develop an Internet-based interactive course in security for jewelers and their staffs. “With more than 18,000 members now, it is impossible to see all of them face-to-face, even at seminars, trade shows, and [store] meetings,” says Kennedy. “So we must make more use of technology to do it remotely.”

Despite JSA’s successes and efforts, Kennedy is realistic about what the association and jewelry trade face. “Unfortunately, no matter how good a job JSA does, we as an industry will never reach the Promised Land, and JSA won’t put itself out of business. This is a high-profile industry, and there will always be criminals that attack it.

“But JSA will continue to confront that, adapting to meet the changing methods of the crime and criminals, for the security of the jewelry industry.”