Safety First

Retail jewelers reported an overwhelming increase in grab-and-run theft crimes in 2006, says John Kennedy, president of Jewelers’ Security Alliance. According to JSA statistics, recorded incidents increased from 170 events in 2005 to 419 last year.

A grab-and-run thief enters a store during business hours and runs off with merchandise after a salesperson removes a piece to show. Although these crimes are calculated hits on retailers, they don’t require much skill—they merely require a criminal intent.

Unfortunately, the number of arrests is much lower than the crimes committed. Because of the high number of reported instances and the ease of the crime, Kennedy says every independent retail jeweler, large or small, urban or small-town, should be aware of this type of crime.

Kennedy has some recommendations for reducing losses in this area. First, retailers should advise salespeople to show one item at a time. Taking many pieces out of the showcase may entice a potential thief. If a customer wants to compare pieces, have the salesperson wear or hold the extra item.

Second, it may be best to show pieces in a secure area in the store—either in a private room or at a location farthest from the door. Also, have a second sales associate available.

Third, many jewelers ask customers for identification, claiming that their insurance policy requires it when showing an expensive item. Although a fake ID is easy to acquire, asking for a mug shot still dissuades some potential thieves.

Kennedy advises retailers never to try to stop a thief, lest a nonviolent crime turn violent. These crimes are committed during business hours, so anyone attempting to restrain a thief puts not only himself but also other employees and customers in danger.

“Smash-and-grab” or “three-minute” burglaries remain the most prevalent overnight jewelry crime, and an alarm system is no deterrent. In a span of three minutes thieves can grab enough merchandise from cases (they usually make no attempt to break into the safe) and leave. In 2006, says Kennedy, 171 cases were reported to JSA.

There’s a simple way to prevent this type of theft. “The obvious answer is to put the goods away,” says Kennedy. “Even if your insurance company allows you to keep merchandise out of your safe overnight, we still urge you to at least put it away in drawers, out of sight, so that it doesn’t act as an enticement for someone to break in.” He also recommends other measures, such as strengthening glass windows and cases. Treatments can be added to existing glass panes that can resist even the force of a sledge hammer. Also, if the retailer is in control of the storefront design, Kennedy advises installing a gate.

The JCK Industry Fund recently made a grant to JSA to expand local crime-prevention networks. (See “Networking Can Keep Jewelers Safer,” JCK, May 2007, p. 218.) As members of a network, jewelers and police work together to share information about suspicious and crime-related incidents. Retailers who are interested can receive advice and legal protocols about creating a local network with JSA (visit their Web site at www.jewelerssecurity.org). JSA will match jewelers with police forces by jurisdiction.

In communities that have established crime-prevention networks, there is more communication between jewelers and police forces, increasing overall awareness. For instance, both parties might meet every year and discuss common crime-prevention strategies. “If you have an organized group,” explains Kennedy, “[the police] are going to take notice even more. They work the cases more aggressively and utilize more resources.

“There are a very large number of instancesin which criminals will commit the same crime in a relatively small geographical area in a small amount of time. They will go to every jewelry store,” says Kennedy. These people are called “sneak thieves” and usually strike by writing bad checks and the like. An aggressive network will be able to catch criminals like these faster and more effectively.

David Sexton, vice president of loss prevention for Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., says that in light of the continuing trend of smash-and-grab thefts, Jewelers Mutual recommends several security precautions.

First, jewelers should place merchandise in their safe or vault when they close. If there isn’t room for lower-valued items and buying another safe is not a viable option, jewelers should remove this property from displays.

Second, Sexton notes that some jewelers have applied protective films to both exterior glass windows and showcase displays, which provides an extra measure of resistance to attack. Sexton says retailers should comply with the film manufacturer’s installation instructions and notes that window and showcase display frames need to provide attack resistance that’s commensurate with that provided by the film. He also says the application of any impact-resisting film to perimeter show windows and doors can affect the operation of some glass-break detectors. Sexton recommends that jewelers verify that their glass-break sensors are designed to compensate for the presence of the film.

Third, grilles or metal bars, when installed across the front of a jewelry store, should always be installed on the inside of the windows. Sexton says, “This is so that a burglar must first break the glass, triggering the alarm, before being able to begin working on penetrating the bars.”

Sexton also recommends Underwriters Laboratories–listed burglary-resistant safes or vaults constructed of UL-listed burglary-resistant modular vault panels and vault doors. “Depending on the jeweler’s size, needs, concentration of values, and nature of their operation,” says Sexton, “jewelers should decide whether their present and projected needs can be met by a UL Class M,1, 2, or 3 modular vault and vault door.” According to technical literature provided by Sexton, those classifications refer to a combination- or time-locked door designed to defeat expert burglars. They also refer to panels used in vault floors, walls, and ceilings designed to offer similar protection.

Sexton also recommends that jewelers work with alarm service companies that can provide UL-certified burglar alarm systems. He says insurance companies rely on the performance standards developed by Underwriters Laboratories to assure that alarm systems are installed, maintained, and serviced in a timely manner. UL certificates describe the security provided by specific burglar-alarm systems.

There is a significant risk for retailers and their families at home. “Ten percent of losses happen off premises, which actually includes both thefts at the home of a retailer and salespeople while traveling,” says Kennedy. That represents only about 15 to 20 cases a year, but JSA advises retailers to be careful returning home from the store and never to bring product home.

Kennedy recommends that retailers install good alarm systems at home, and notes that some retailers keep dogs. Engage in evasive driving techniques and try not to arrive home at the same time every day. Kennedy also urges retailers not to carry a gun or other weapon—carry a charged cell phone instead. JSA does not advocate the possession of guns by civilians. The organization’s position is that it only raises the level of violence. “Cops should have guns,” says Kennedy. He also advises retailers not to resist if threatened.

Jewelers should choose their residence for safety—look for lighted communities and close neighbors. “Nosey neighbors are sometimes the best security,” says Kennedy.

The jewelry industry has seen a dramatic decline in attempts on traveling salespersons and trunk shows. “We only see about one or two a year, which is a significant decrease compared with five years ago when gangs were causing an annual 25 to 30 hits,” says Kennedy. Susan Cimino, who worked as a traveling saleswoman, understands the dangers and the precautions to take to avoid them. “Every time we got in the car we checked underneath the tires. Many times thieves will do something to your tires to disable the car once you’ve gotten on the road,” she says. She also recommends taking care of car maintenance and errands during daylight hours and stopping only at crowded or brightly lit areas.

Vik Jain, of Fana Jewelry, New York, frequently travels with his fine-jewelry line. He recommends not visiting too many jewelers in the same area, not driving a flashy car, and wearing ordinary clothes. He says traveling salespersons should try to fit into the area they’re visiting. “Keep a low profile, and use common sense,” he says. “I think sometimes being too cautious can make a salesperson stand out as well. Keeping a cool and even temperament is the safest way to travel.”