New Ways to Fight Crime

A loaded handgun, cell phone, silent alarm button, remote beeper to open and close the front door, and CCTV monitor share space with a sink and a toilet in the bathroom of Paul’s jewelry store in a suburb of Chicago. After being locked inside his bathroom during two robberies, Paul—who requested that his full name not be used—is taking no chances.

His reaction is understandable. Still, turning your bathroom or even your entire store into a fortress is no protection against crime. “No matter what precautions you take, even if your bathroom resembles the back of a S.W.A.T. truck, you are always at risk when you work in a jewelry store,” says John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance in New York.

Just since 1984, nearly 200 jewelers have lost their lives in store shootings, and the number of robberies shows no signs of slackening. To lessen the odds of your becoming a victim, we asked crime experts and security firms around the country for a list of the newest and most effective ways to protect your store, staff, and customers. Here’s what we came up with:

Remote interactive audio/video. Thanks to former FBI Special Agent George Slicho, vice president of loss prevention for Zale Corp., one of the chain’s 1,100 retail stores was ready when thieves recently attacked the premises. The company had invested in a “digital bodyguard” known as remote interactive video/audio.

The store’s hidden cameras and microphones, components of this new security system, were triggered into action when thieves broke a window, setting off alarms. Slicho and security operators at Westec Security were able to monitor the crime as it was happening.

“Westec could hear the glass breaking,” says Slicho. “They were able to broadcast a warning over the system’s speakers, and because of the interactive security system, the police were quickly dispatched to a confirmed burglary in progress. This averted a loss to the store other than some damage to the door.”

Robocop it’s not, but the interactive video/audio system gives you the eyes and ears of a security officer without the liability and salary costs of an armed guard. This sentry never sleeps, eats, or calls in sick. “Remote Interactive Security is the electronic equivalent of a roving security guard,” says Mike Upp, vice president for marketing and business development for Westec Security in Newport Beach, Calif.

The interactive device is integrated with your existing alarm and CCTV systems and allows microphones, speakers, and cameras to be connected via telephone line or digital ISDN line to Westec’s central station. Video images and audio are captured at rapid speeds as snapshots, compressed, and then transmitted via phone lines. The system can be operated from strategically placed suspicion buttons that can be kept under your sales counter or even mounted on your belt. A “hot phone” also can activate the system, which gives your store an immediate, virtual audience with direct lines to police.

Just as the CNN cable television news network makes people witnesses to world events, the Westec system gives you virtual eyewitnesses to crimes. The audio and tapes plus the testimony of monitoring personnel aid in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders.

One caveat: Remember to keep the system activated at all times. Says FBI Special Agent John Strong, program manager for the agency’s Jewelry & Gems task force, “Many jewelry stores forget to leave the cameras on, or they don’t realize that light coming in from windows can obscure the picture when it hits the camera at certain angles at certain times of the day.”

A remote interactive security system runs about $8,000 per store plus $200 to $500 in monthly monitoring fees, depending on what services you select. For example, Westec can do video tours of your store at regular intervals or at random. You can check on your employees in secret or let them know they will be monitored from time to time.

You can also dial in to the Westec remote interactive security system from a home computer using InTouch Manager. The software is available for $500 to $600 plus $20 a month in monitoring fees. This may be a good fit for small independent jewelers or for chains that don’t have a large security staff. For more information, contact Westec Security at (800) 947-8110 or visit

Tracking transmitters.When thieves hit a Service Merchandise store in Los Angeles in 1995, the jewelry trays they took were equipped with a tracking system called Pro-Net.The Los Angeles Police Department had patrol cars and helicopters zeroing in on the thieves minutes after they fled the store. In less than 30 minutes, the crooks were behind bars.

“We recovered all of the stolen jewelry,” says Jeff Cochran, Service Merchandise’s associate vice president for loss prevention. “Banks have used hidden transmitters to track stolen money for years, and we decided to use the Pro-Net system in a few of our stores.” That decision paid off for Cochran. It might be a good way to protect your store’s jewelry, too.

Pro-Net is being marketed to the jewelry industry as the Silent Siren, a dollar-bill-sized transmitter that can be concealed inside jewelry trays. Through a network of radio signaling towers operated by police in select states, authorities can use the signal from one of these transmitters to locate your jewelry tray and the thief who took it after the crook leaves your store.

The system is activated when the ring tray is removed from the riser, alerting police to the crime even before you call 911. The transmitter makes no sound and gives no indication to the perpetrator that he’s being tracked. The fixed-site receiver connects with a computer mapping system indicating the transmitter’s location and direction of travel.

The Silent Siren costs between $67 and $109 a month, depending on the term of your lease and the number of transmitters you order. For more information, contact The Silent Siren Inc. at (888) 747-3601.

Blinding smoke. Military tactics are based on a few basic principles: surprise, speed, and smokescreens to keep the enemy from seeing what’s going on. Jewelry stores can enlist the service of a device that uses these tactics in a crime situation. It’s called Smokecloak.

From nontoxic ingredients found in deodorants and toothpaste, the Smokecloak produces a dense vapor that creates a zero-visibility zone in your store. The crook who set off your alarm is then blinded by the thick white fog, which fills the room within seconds and lasts for 45 minutes to an hour. The device is automatic and can be activated or deactivated from your alarm panel.

A sensor monitors the density of the smoke and shuts on and off to maintain zero visibility until an authorized person deactivates the system. An optional voice module that tells the bad guy to exit immediately is also available for $170.

“There is no residue from the vapor, and the Smokecloak reduces a criminal’s shopping time,” says Glen Karlberg, CEO of Smokecloak USA, Fountain Hills, Ariz. “Most property loss takes place in three to four minutes.”

Karlberg says Zale, Helzberg’s Diamond Shops, and the De Beers vaults in Antwerp use the product, which was developed in England and is popular in Europe. Smokecloak units range from $2,000 to $3,000 with installation. The unit requires a separate power system in the form of a 20-amp spur directly into the main fuse board, and it can operate off a battery back-up system that’s available separately for $250.

Notify your local police and fire departments before putting the system in your store, as smoke detectors may need to be adjusted to activate only when sensing heat and not smoke. For more information, contact Smokecloak USA at (602) 837-3773 or visit

Cellular/radio transmission alarms. Crooks cut the phone lines to a building that houses a travel agency and jewelry store in Sharon, Pa., deactivating the alarm. According to police reports, the suspects broke into the travel agency and drilled through the wall of the jewelry store. Because the alarm was neutralized, the travel agency manager had to drive to the local police station to report the break-in. Obviously, the culprit got away. In another incident in Chester Township, Ohio, Prestige Jewelers lost 80% of its merchandise when burglars disabled the store’s alarm system, according to police.

One way to make it difficult for criminals to disable your alarm system is to have a combined phone, radio, pulsenet, and cellular transmission alarm, says Ray Adams, chief operating officer of Mutual Central Alarm Co. in New York. These alarms use UHF radio frequencies and cellular relays—not phone lines that can be cut—to transmit break-in signals to police and security personnel. “While a radio signal has 30 to 40 relay points on Long Island and New Jersey, cellular systems can utilize some 8 million relays,” says Adams.

One system that can safeguard your alarm system from severed phone lines is AlarmNet-A from AlarmNet of Syosset, N.Y. Available in 22 major metropolitan areas, this network offers line security via wireless communication between a jewelry store and the central station. Some cellular transmission systems send information via regular phone lines connected to a central station—lines subject to the same sabotage as the phone lines of a retail jeweler. For more information, contact AlarmNet at (800) 222-6525. AlarmNet systems for jewelers average $600 plus monthly monitoring fees that are paid to your central station alarm company.

“A jeweler on 38th Street in New York City was robbed when phone lines were down, and our radio signal kicked in,” says Mutual Central’s Adams. “Our guards and police responded, and the crooks were apprehended.”

Locking mechanisms. Two people may have the key to your jewelry display cases—you and the thief who plans on stealing your merchandise. A recent police raid on a criminal gang netted nearly 300 keys that open jewelry showcases. According to JSA, many jewelry display cases have generic locks.

The old spring latches that secure many jewelry display cases are also vulnerable to elementary lock-picking techniques using just a credit card, says Bill MacMillan, director of loss prevention for Elangy in Edison, N.J. “We had a period where we lost $50,000 in merchandise from these lock-picking incidents,” he says. “Today, we’re in the process of converting the old spring locks to high-security deadbolts with restricted keys. In the eight months following the upgrade, not one of these equipped showcases was compromised.”

An ABS plastic case cover from Nicholasville, Ky.-based LockNet is another way to prevent lock-picking schemes as well as the smash-and-grab routine. Each case is custom-made with hard plastic that can’t easily be penetrated in the two- to five-minute time frame in which most crimes occur. The price ranges from $750 to $800 per showcase. “These case covers were developed in cooperation with Service Merchandise,” says LockNet’s president, Benson Miller.

Another LockNet product that can foil a showcase break-in is the Mace Dye Pack, activated by a radio transmitter hidden in the base. When the case is lifted off the riser, a circuit board establishes a signal with receivers at the doorway. The receivers wait for the jewelry to leave the store. Then, with a puff of smoke and an explosion of dye, the crook is covered with colorful evidence of guilt. Each unit runs about $1,500.

The generic key problem among showcases is addressed with LockNet’s InstaKey product, a system that allows you to rekey by turning a master key instead of calling for professional assistance each time you wish to do so. InstaKey adapts to fit most hardware, including knob sets, levers, deadbolts, and padlocks. Prices start at $300 to $400. For more information on LockNet products, call (606) 887-9119 or visit

Internal theft can be a problem for locks as well. But not when you use Audicon locks from Mas-Hamilton of Lexington, Ky. These locks are equipped with an internal power system and can provide a complete audit trail of who accessed your merchandise and when.

Jewelry sales associates can use individualized personal identification numbers on its keypad to gain access. They can be denied access at certain times of the day or on days when they’re not scheduled to work. Prices range from $200 to $750. For more information, call (606) 253-4744 or visit

Fingerprinting diamonds. Arrests in North Carolina and California recovered stolen jewelry that was returned to its owners because the diamonds had “fingerprints” on file. A device called Gemprint makes this possible, says Steve Burke, president of Gemprint Corp., Toronto.

Gemprint uses a low-powered laser to capture the unique light-reflection pattern of a diamond. The results are entered into a database that can track down the retailer and the customer should the diamond ever be stolen or lost. The end product is a report that sketches the light-reflection pattern of the stone accompanied by a description of key features.

Prosecutors in a recent court case in California used a Gemprint report as evidence in a criminal trial, according to Burke. It helped lead to a conviction. Gemprint can also guard against stone-switching by a “customer” while in your jewelry store.

Gemprint units cost $4,495 plus a $600 yearly maintenance fee. For more information, call (888) GEMPRINT or visit

Pre-employment screening. “One of the most important parts of the hiring process is to do background investigations,” says Zale’s Slicho. If your store doesn’t do some sort of pre-employment screening, you may be asking for trouble. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, employees are responsible for 40% of retail theft.

Chicago-based United States Mutual Association (USMA), a national association of 700 retailers including Zale, Cartier, and the Home Shopping Network, maintains a database of millions of fraud cases filed among retailers. Many of these cases were never reported to the police. It’s not uncommon for guilty employees to sign a confession and be terminated without formal legal action. These transactions are recorded and filed by USMA members. USMA charges $3.25 per inquiry and $11.50 to $12.75 for criminal conviction searches. Zale uses USMA, says Slicho. “About 6% of the people who make it past our interview and screening process are listed as having prior retail fraud records.”

“You have to be smart,” says Alexander Amadeo, director of loss prevention for Jan Bell Marketing. “Retailers need to use the information that is available to them, such as credit reports, criminal records, and psychological data. If you hire a 25-year-old sales clerk with 15 charge accounts and $30,000 in debt, and you pay him $7 per hour, how long do you think it will be before that person steals something from you?” For more information, visit USMA’s Web site,

Safe keeping. If you’re lucky and do everything just right, crooks won’t stay long enough to take on your safe. But if they do, you need to be prepared with the best safe you can afford. One product that may do the trick is the Hidden Safe from Custom Security Inc. in Memphis, Tenn.

“They can’t steal what they can’t find,” says Custom Security’s Dan Perkins. “The criminal will ask you to take him to your safe, and you should. Place some jewelry in the safe that can be seen, but put all of the good stuff in one of our hidden safes.” Perkins claims that not one of his safes has ever been located during a burglary or a robbery. “We can hide a safe just about anywhere except where you would expect, like behind a picture frame,” he says. “The floors, the walls, and the furniture are fair game.”

These safes are not tested for security by Underwriters Laboratories (U.L.) in Chicago (see p. 146), but if they remain hidden, that’s not an issue, since thieves can’t open a safe they can’t locate. Prices start at $20,000 to $30,000 per safe, including installation. The further you are from Memphis, the more you’ll pay.

Time locks aren’t the answer, says Perkins. “You don’t want to make an unpredictable crook mad by telling him you can’t open a safe until 9 a.m. the next morning. That line might please an insurance company, but what risk does that put the jeweler in? How much is your life worth?”

For more information on hidden safes, call (800) 421-7394 or visit

Many thieves are now using cutting rods to cut open safes, says Karl Alizade, president of City Safe Inc. in Farmingdale, N.J. Cutting rods were developed during World War II as underwater cutting instruments and are readily available at commercial welding supply stores. Alizade says the best defense against cutting rods is high-density concrete. “There is no metal that can stop a 9,000-degree cutting rod.”

For perspective, Alizade cites the World Trade Center parking garage, which was exploded by a bomb in 1993. It was built to withstand 4,500 pounds per square inch of force. By comparison, says Alizade, “super-high-density concrete can withstand 26,000 to 32,000 pounds per square inch of force. The cutting rods don’t handle this material as well as they do the traditional metallic barriers.”

Traditional U.L.-rated safes are the best bet for most jewelers, says Richard Krasilovsky, president of Empire Safe Co. in New York. He recommends different models of safes depending on the value of the goods to be stored. “If you have less than a half-million dollars in merchandise, you can use a TL-30X6 [$3,000-$7,000 list]. If you have over $500,000, you need a TRTL-30X6 [$7,000 to $20,000 list],” he says.

Iris scanning. The eye’s iris contains more than 250 measurable characteristics. (A fingerprint, by comparison, has about 40.) Scanning someone’s iris is one of the most accurate ways to be sure your security system is granting access to the right people.

The technology is new, and jewelry retailers have yet to embrace it. But a company called IriScan in Marlton, N.J., has a system that’s applicable to the jewelry industry. Your safes, doors to the back room, or anything with electrical latches can be configured to match iris scans with those whom you wish to have access.

“The IriScan can control access to any space that needs to be secure,” says Jerry Kennedy, IriScan’s director of strategic development. “Its primary use today is securing bank vaults.”

To operate the IriScan, you need iris-recognition software, a computer, integrating software to link IriScan to your locking mechanism, and a Windows NT operating system. Using these components plus a digital scanner, an individual’s iris characteristics are encoded and stored. Those characteristics are then used to verify the person’s identity when he presents his iris for comparison. Recognition takes about two seconds. Eyeglasses and contact lenses don’t pose a problem.

“The random patterns of the iris are the equivalent of a complex human bar code, created by a tangled meshwork of connective tissue and other visible features,” explains IriScan’s Kennedy. The likelihood of a false reading is 1 in 1.2 million, he says.

A jewelry retailer could adapt this technology for use on computers with customer accounts, door locks, or safe locks at a cost of $6,500 per door. Company officials hope to unveil a $3,000 unit this year. For more information, call (800) 333-6777 or (800) 877-IRISCAN, or visit

Facial-recognition software. Moving beyond the eye, a person’s entire face can serve as a key to obtain access to computers, doors, and just about anywhere jewelry is stored. Miros Inc. of Wellesley, Mass., offers software designed for this purpose. With a program called TrueFace PC ($59.95), information on five faces can be stored. Another version called TrueFace Network ($100) can accommodate an unlimited number of facial images. Larger retail jewelers will likely require the most expensive facial-recognition software, TrueFace Access. At $4,000 per door, the software is now used in many military bases and high-security government buildings.

“We see the biggest application of this technology for high-value items such as jewelry,” says Michael Kuperstein, president and CEO of Miros. “The system also creates a visual audit of all the people that gained or tried to gain access to a protected area.”

For more information, call Miros at (781) 235-0330 or visit

Beyond cameras. “Security cameras have been around a long time, and they don’t prevent crime,” says Tim Sullivan, vice president of loss prevention for Daniel’s Jewelers, a 36-store retail chain run by Culver City, Calif.-based Sherwood Management Co. Inc. “That’s why our industry has so many videotapes of jewelry stores being robbed. More than once, I have seen a tape of an armed robber who looks straight into a security camera, shrugs his shoulders, and continues to steal jewelry.”

You need more than cameras to remain safe in today’s violent world. But with the security devices now available, you won’t need to turn your bathroom into a facsimile of a S.W.A.T. truck.

Alarming Developments

Criminals these days are intentionally setting off alarms to assess who responds and how, says Stanley Oppenheim of DGA Security Systems Inc. in New York. “Burglars wait to see how long it takes for guards or police to arrive and may break in after the authorities depart. Don’t leave the premises until all alarms are reset, and be prepared for a second alarm. And take it very seriously.”

In an effort to cut costs, alarm companies have lowered the level of service and security response. Companies can get two levels of certification of their security from Underwriters Laboratories in Chicago. The higher-level “central station certificate” requires guard response, supervision during opening and closing of the store, 24-hour maintenance, and a promised response time in writing. Easier-to-obtain “mercantile” certificates require none of those things; all they signify is that whatever security equipment is being used is effective and in working order. “We’re seeing a downward trend in the number of central station certificates issued to alarm companies in favor of mercantile certificates,” says Steve Schmidt, assistant managing engineer for Underwriters Laboratories. “The main reason for this change is the mercantile certificate is less expensive for an alarm company and allows for a softer promise for protection.”

“Jewelers often don’t know whether an alarm company has a U.L. central station certificate or a mercantile certificate,” notes Ray Adams, chief operating officer of Mutual Central Alarm Co. in New York. “It makes a difference.”

Equip Your Security Arsenal

Westec Interactive System (800) 947-8110 $8,000 per store plus $200-$500 in monthly monitoring fees Real-time video and audio surveillance can replace guards.
Silent Siren (888) 747-3601 $67-$109 per month, depending on term of lease and number of units. Wafer-thin transmitter hidden inside jewelry trays that tracks crooks using radio signals on police-monitored frequencies.
Smokecloak (602) 837-3773 $2,000-$3,000 Using nontoxic smog, the device creates a zero-visibility zone in your store when alarm is triggered.
Cellular/radio alarms Contact your local alarm company Start at $600 With this system, your alarm will work even if a crook cuts your phone lines, a common technique.
Gemprint (888) GEMPRINT $4,495 plus $600 per year in maintenance fees Measures the light signature of a diamond and can establish the uniqueness of the stone in the event of loss or theft.
USMA criminal checks $3.25 for theft records, $11.50 to $12.75 for criminal conviction searches Low-cost vehicle for pre-employment screening.
Hidden Safes (800) 421-7394 $20,000-$30,000 Safes are hidden in your existing space. The company claims no one has ever robbed one of these. Access-control device that
IriScan (800) 333-6777 $6,500 per door Access-control device that recognizes the human iris and acts as a lock system.
Facial-recognition software (781) 235-0330 $4,000 per door

No matter what precautions you take, you are always at risk when you work in a jewelry store. —John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance

Miles Z. Epstein is a freelance writer in Park Ridge, N.J., who specializes in the jewelry industry.

Log Out

Are you sure you want to log out?

CancelLog out