Robbery suspects run into a jewelry store waving AK-47’s. Suspects pistol-whip jewelry store security guards. Suspects smash showcases with sledgehammers and take all the high-end watches and diamonds they can, as quickly as they can. The robbers leave within 30–60 seconds, often taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise. This is a smash-and-grab robbery, the current No. 1 crime threat for a U.S. retail jeweler.
So far this year there has been a dangerous pattern of these cases, particularly in California, but over the last several years smash-and-grab gangs have hit coast to coast. The investigation of a very active gang that operated out of Detroit during 2014–2015 has resulted in the arrest or indictment of an astonishing 54 suspects, and numerous members of a very mobile Oakland, Calif., gang that struck from California to South Carolina have been arrested. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, new dangerous and violent gangs have sprung up to take their place.
In the last five months there have been 25 smash-and-grab robberies of jewelry stores in the United States, out of 65 robberies of all types, and in 2015 there were 72 smash-and-grabs. The FBI, ATF, and local police have been very active in investigating jewelry store robberies, and this year there have been arrests of 49 robbery suspects in 20 cases.
Jewelers need to focus on these risks, and there are important steps that retail jewelers can take to reduce the likelihood of a smash-and-grab robbery as well as the amount of the loss if one occurs. However, having adequate insurance is the underlying protection absolutely needed by retail jewelers no matter what crime-prevention steps are taken.
Recommendations for reducing smash-and-grab robbery losses:
1. Don’t resist. The most important advice is for the jeweler to cooperate once a robbery is in progress. Resistance can provoke violence or a shoot-out and puts at risk the lives of the jeweler, employees, customers, and innocent passers-by. Even when robbers come in with a gun, they come in to take a jeweler’s merchandise, not a jeweler’s life. Don’t resist, cooperate, and live to sell another day.
2. Showcases with laminated glass and sturdy frames have prevented many smash-and-grab robberies or greatly reduced the amount of a loss. Properly built showcases with laminated glass can withstand numerous blows from a sledgehammer, and robbers will often leave when they can’t easily smash through the glass. Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA) has not seen cases in which smash-and-grab robbers retaliate with violence in stores that have laminated glass showcases. Furthermore, even if the robbers are able to smash a small hole in the laminated glass, they often cut themselves reaching in, leaving blood, which can be valuable DNA evidence.
3. Buzzers with locked doors can provide some deterrent in preventing robbers from targeting or entering a store.
4. Don’t concentrate high value merchandise in only one showcase.
5. The use of guards, armed or unarmed, is a complicated issue that each owner needs to decide in his or her own special circumstances. Bold smash-and-grab criminals do not seem to bypass stores with unarmed guards. In at least three recent cases, there were unarmed guards that did not deter robbers. If a jeweler decides to have armed guards, JSA recommends off-duty police personnel in uniform, if that is permitted by the local police department. However, the presence of even armed guards is not without a downside: It can possibly escalate the level of violence or cause harm to an innocent bystander. Guards have been pistol-whipped, and shoot-outs have occurred.
6. Jewelers should establish a personal relationship with their local police department, explain to a supervisor their unusually high risks, and request an increase in directed patrol for their stores.
7. Jewelers should be alert for casing and suspicious circumstances, and record such instances in a suspicious-incident notebook. Surveillance video should be saved for at least a month, and videos of suspicious incidents and persons should be copied and kept indefinitely.
8. Having eye-level cameras in stores at the front that clearly record those going in or coming out can provide great investigative material for law enforcement. Review surveillance video images taken at different times of the day to make sure placement and lighting is adequate.
9. Share information, photos, and videos on possible casing and suspicious incidents with other jewelers in the area, local police, and with JSA. Many crimes have been prevented and many criminals arrested due to the timely sharing of information. JSA works with dozens of local networks of jewelers around the country that share such information, and JSA can provide guidelines upon request for the best way to organize and operate a local jewelers’ crime-prevention group.