The Most Preventable Crime

If you could prevent someone from stealing thousands of dollars worth of jewelry from your store, would you do it? Of course, you say. Then why don’t more jewelers do that?

Three-minute burglaries (3MB) cost jewelers millions annually, yet they’re the most preventable [jewelry] crime that isn’t being prevented, says John J. Kennedy, president of Jewelers’ Security Alliance.

In three-minute burglaries, thieves break into a store through a glass window or door, steal merchandise left in display cases or show windows, and flee in three minutes or less—and in many cases, in less than a minute. “These crooks never go after the safe, and they don’t worry about setting off an alarm, because they’re gone before the police or alarm company can respond,” notes Kennedy.

Frequency. Three-minute burglaries are the most frequent crimes against jewelers, representing two-thirds to three-fourths of all U.S. jewelry-store burglaries annually. They’re also among the costliest. In 2004, 3MBs accounted for merchandise losses valued at $9 million. Many of those thefts cost individual jewelers $100,000 or more.

However, actual losses to 3MBs are always much higher than published, because at least a third of jewelers suffering them don’t have a final loss figure when they report the crime (to police or JSA) or simply list losses as $1 rather than publicize an actual amount.

In addition, cost to a jeweler is always more than just stolen merchandise. As Kennedy puts it, “Having your store trashed is very detrimental to business.” There’s damage to doors, windows, showcases, and/or other fixtures or equipment, all needing repair or replacement, he notes. There’s interruption of business because of lost selling time while the store is closed for repairs, and stolen inventory must be replaced. There’s harm to the morale of the jeweler and staff, and damage to public confidence because of the publicity.

This problem isn’t going away. While some crimes against jewelers, such as robberies and safe attacks, have decreased—thanks to improved alarm, surveillance, and safe technology—three-minute burglaries have increased. A decade ago, less than half of all jewelry-store burglaries were 3MBs. Today, at least two out of three are (see chart p. 106).

Low-Tech Crime. The irony is that this costly crime is so low-tech. It requires only throwing a rock or heavy object through a glass door or window (or occasionally forcing a door), smashing glass display cases, grabbing as much merchandise as possible, and fleeing. Nothing glamorous, nothing complicated.

Yet, few 3MB crooks—usually one person, sometimes two, rarely more—are caught (under 10 percent, say estimates), unless a policeman happens by or a neighbor sees something.

Why? Timing is a reason. This is a night crime, committed between midnight and 6 a.m. (usually 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.) when stores are closed and no one is on the street.

Another reason is that while this crime needs no expertise, those who do it usually specialize in it. Despite the occasional spontaneous break-in by a drug addict, drunk, or teen gang member, for the most part, this is the business of [3MB thieves], says Kennedy. “They know what they’re doing. They’ve cased the store and know what they want and how to get in and get away before police get there.”

Letting It Happen. However, there’s another big reason this crime is so frequent and costly: Too many jewelers simply let it happen.

“The real challenge isn’t stopping [3MB thieves], but getting jewelers to secure their property safely, properly, and out-of-sight overnight and whenever closed,” says David Sexton, vice president of loss prevention at Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company. “It’s a drum we’re constantly beating.”

What are jewelers doing wrong? Experts cite the following:

  • Leaving out some—or even much—of their merchandise overnight in showcases and windows even though, “if thieves see it, they’ll try to steal it,” says Kennedy. Some leave out only inexpensive items, thinking there’s less risk. “But these thieves don’t know their value,” Sexton says. “To them, anything sparkling or shiny looks expensive.”

  • Turning off security-camera surveillance systems overnight or not having any at all.

  • Turning off or dimming store lighting inside and out.

  • Not having adequate security protection for doors, windows, and showcases. “Some doors’ locks are so weak, a little pressure can force them open,” notes Kennedy.

  • Covering showcases at night. One East Coast jeweler routinely did so and even padlocked the cover blankets, reasoning if thieves couldn’t see into cases, merchandise inside was safe. It wasn’t. “A thief thinks differently,” says Robert W. Frank, JSA vice president and former policeman. “He sees draped cases and asks himself, ‘Why’s that covered? Because something is in it.’ And he’ll try to get it.”

Reasons. These jewelers say in their own defense that they have good reasons for going unprotected. A big one is that it takes too long or costs too much (in staff time and pay) to put everything away nightly. Another is that fine merchandise must be handled carefully, and something may get scratched, damaged, or shop-worn from the constant “ins and outs.”

Others say they don’t have room in their safe or vault for everything. Each jeweler, of course, must put away enough to meet insurance requirements, based on the nature and value of the merchandise. But some try to reduce their in-safe requirement and burglary premium by leaving out less expensive items. They may put 70 percent of inventory in-safe, for example, but leave out items priced under $100. Yet, while inexpensive individually, these items together are worth thousands.

A number say they don’t worry about 3MBs because they’re insured or because the likelihood of it happening to them seems remote—even though, as Kennedy notes, “almost everyone knows someone it’s happened to.” Once it does happen to a jeweler, adds Frank, “the next day, all excuses go away, and they begin doing something about prevention.”

Deterring 3MBs. So, how can a jeweler deter three-minute burglaries? Here’s what experts recommend:

  • Out of Sight. Put away as much merchandise each night as possible. If all can’t fit into the vault or safe, says Kennedy, put the rest, or most of it, into a smaller safe, lockable cabinet, or even a lockable drawer under the showcase. “That will significantly reduce losses,” notes Sexton. “If [three-minute burglars] can’t see anything in the cases, there’s no reason for them to break into them.”

  • Trays and Cases. Use merchandise display trays to remove, store, and set up. Some jewelers even use baker’s carts (wheeled trolleys with multiple shelves for trays), Sexton notes, into which they put all trays and wheel right into the vault.

  • Newer Options. Kennedy says that there are new showcases whose top half with display trays descends into the lower half and is automatically covered at night, showing an empty showcase. These are already used by some large chains but their price—approximately $2,000—is affordable even for small jewelers.

In all these examples, setup and take-down time is reduced, and there’s little or no handling of merchandise, preventing damage or scratching.

  • Vigilance. Install 24-hour security-camera surveillance inside and out. “Many jewelers turn off cameras at night to save money, but the cost of leaving them on is negligible,” says Kennedy. Seeing cameras can deter some from break-ins, and the cameras provide useful information to catch those who do. One New York jeweler’s video system recently provided police with pictures not only of the thief but also of his car and license plate.
    Also, keep lighting on overnight inside and out. “Some think erroneously that lights attract criminals,” said Sexton. “Actually, it discourages burglars and crime.”

  • Gates. Install pull-down metal security gates for store windows and doorways. These slow down and deter 3MB crooks. “They want to get in and out quickly, not cut through something that takes time,” says Kennedy. “And, there are all types of gates to suit a store’s architectural style and cost only a couple thousand dollars.”

  • Tough Glass. Use security glass in windows and cases, especially in stores with what Sexton calls “significant window-glass exposure.” These can be installed when a store is built or renovated. There are also security glass filaments (film) that can be put on windows and display cases to reinforce glass.

  • Design Security. Whenever a jeweler remodels, relocates, builds, or adds a store, Sexton says to consider carefully what is needed to properly secure merchandise at night. “Talk to the insurance carrier providing your jewelers block coverage about what you need and the security equipment suppliers to go to,” he says. The JSA Web site also has a directory of security service and product suppliers (

“Security is a complete package and a 24-hour concern,” notes Frank. “It isn’t one thing you do to prevent one crime, but everything you do to enhance your security that reduces the likelihood that three-minute burglars—who do watch—will come for you.

“Consider two jewelry stores,” he says. “One has security cameras, puts its jewelry away at night, has window and door gates, a JSA sticker, burglary-resistant glass, and good locks. A three-minute burglar casing it will think, ‘These people are careful. This isn’t worth the risk.’ Then he sees the other store leaves stuff out overnight, has no surveillance cameras, no gates, and is poorly lit. He thinks, ‘These people are careless. There’s no risk.’ “Which one do you think he’ll hit?”

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