Last updateWed, 19 Feb 2020 12am

The Best Policy Lovers of the night

Roof-top burglaries - a new trend in jewelry crime

Sunday Morning

Like cops on a stake-out, they waited silently in an unmarked van parked in the shadows of the darkened street.  They were watching and timing the events at a strip center down the street from where they were parked.  Night-vision binoculars aided their surveillance of the scene.

For almost eight minutes, nothing was happening.  The center and the businesses that “resided” there lay under the lone light from the poles in the parking lot, and no one was near – as would be expected at 1 a.m.

Then a car arrived, a sedan, only the driver inside; he remained in the vehicle.  One minute later, a police car arrived – no lights, no siren; just one officer.   Both men could be seen getting out of their respective vehicles, looking at the building and talking.  The man who had been in the sedan was the owner of the jewelry store where the alarm had been set off – a professional jeweler who had been roused from a sound sleep by a phone call.  The officer was a professional in law enforcement taking his turn at the night shift.

The three men in the stake-out van were professionals, too.  They were professional criminals – burglars, to be specific.  And this was their time of day, or in this case, night – for they were lovers of the night.

And so they waited.  The jeweler and the officer seemed to look around the building, shining flashlights here and there, and through the windows of the jewelry store.  Eventually the jeweler unlocked the door and the two went inside.  Satisfied that nothing was amiss, they were soon again outside the store, the jeweler relocking his front door.  And separately they drove away.

The building and the street were both dark and silent again.

Nobody thought to check the roof.  If they had, they just might have noticed a pattern of drill holes the thieves had made seeking out the location of alarm equipment; or they might even have seen the larger hole through which they had accessed the wiring of the system and snapped off the cellular antenna.

It was time to trip the system again.  They did; and they waited.  This time, no one came to check the building, which confirmed to the criminals that the alarm system was no longer communicating to the monitoring company.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry was now unprotected and just waiting for them.

Sure, there would be a safe to deal with – maybe two or three safes; but with the alarm system completely defeated they had plenty of time.  And many jewelers’ safes, even UL rated safes, can be burned or cut into using inexpensive tools which can be easily purchased at a local home repair store.

Tuesday Morning

Jeweler Alexander Wright had had a restful weekend following a very good day of sales on Saturday – except for having to get up in the early hours of Sunday to come and check the store because the alarm system was acting up again.

Recently there had been a number of unexplained false alarms and Alex was about ready to fire one alarm company and hire another.  Each time he came to the store, everything was fine; and this time the police officer who met him had given a stern lecture about “taking officers off the street and leaving the public unprotected in order to answer yet another false alarm,” and warned Alex that he had better get his alarm company to fix the problem or there would be fines.

Oh well, that was Sunday morning and the rest of the weekend had been restful.  Alex particularly enjoyed his weekends since he had begun keeping his store closed on Mondays in order to have a two-day weekend.  Today would hopefully begin another good week of business.

It was 9:15 a.m., and Alex waited in his car for his shop jeweler, Clarence, to arrive; which he soon did.  Clarence stayed in his car as Alex went to the store, unlocked the door, and turned off the alarm.  Oops!  The alarm was still off because of Sunday’s false alarm – that reminded Alex that one of his first phone calls of the day would be to the alarm company.

So Alexander signaled Clarence to come in, and watched as he did so.  This was the two-person opening procedure that had been advised by the insurance company and the Jewelers Security Alliance – Wright Jewelry had always tried to practice good security.

Exchanging pleasantries about their respective weekends, both men walked toward the back of the store to open the safes and begin the routine of bringing merchandise to the showcases.

The first thing Alex noticed was the incredible mess.

There was dust and debris everywhere, even chunks of concrete scattered about.  Nothing was where it should have been.  Even the safes were turned and repositioned!  And there were holes in the safes!  Big holes – nearly 6” across – in the side and near the bottom of each safe!  And there was jewelry scattered on the floor – along with what looked like spent saw blades and metal rods.

With his heart pounding in his chest, Alex peered into one of the holes.  It looked as though even the shelves of the safe had been knocked loose in the burglary, which meant that jewelry on upper shelves had likely fallen to the bottom to be gathered up by the thieves.

It was not going to be a good week.

For many years, all that a jeweler needed to prevent a burglary were a good safe (burglary-rated, not just fire) and a decent, monitored alarm system – plus of course the discipline to put his goods away at night.  Although daytime thefts and armed robberies have always been a concern – and still are - safe burglaries have been a rare occurrence.  Not today.

[Burglary illegally entering a premises when it is closed for the purpose of stealing property.]

The new phase of safe burglaries began about 3 years ago.  After several jewelry stores in the Southern Midwest had experienced crimes, apprehensions were ultimately made and time was served.  Unfortunately, our criminal justice system seldom achieves the rehabilitation goals that are hoped for, and incarceration is often shortened through various legalistic means.

Many of those same criminals are now back – and they’re smarter.

There is an alarming trend at this time in the jewelry industry of successful attacks on TL-15 and TL-30 safes following defeats of alarm systems – alarm systems which have multiple means of communication, e.g., digital communicator (DACS) with cellular back-up.

The method of entry most frequently used is through the roof.  Many commercial buildings have ladders leading to the roof (even code-required in some municipalities); if they don’t, burglars can easily enough bring their own.  From above, thieves can work and not be observed – and they know that alarm responders often do not take the trouble to check a roof.

The second most common method of entry is adjacent premises.  Sometimes the only separation between businesses are 2 layers of 3/8” sheetrock – easily penetrated by a fist or a foot.  If the wall between businesses is masonry – it is still vulnerable; it just takes a little longer.

In one successful burglary, thieves systematically passed through three neighboring businesses before reaching their goal of a jewelry store.  Responders did not think to check businesses three-stores away from the one whose alarm was going off – and the burglars knew they would not.

“False Alarms” are often created as a means of testing both the system and the type and time of response – and to wear down the responders until they stop responding.  When that doesn’t happen, burglars attacking jewelers today have been repeatedly successful at defeating systems that jewelers thought were secure.

In some risks, insurance companies require a type of “interrogate/response” system that occurs on an almost continuous basis (every 120 seconds), through two-way radio or Internet protocol.  These systems are said to have “Standard Line Security,” as defined by Underwriters Laboratories.  But even Standard Line Security can be defeated if burglars are successful in tricking the jeweler into turning the system off or ignoring a call.

Prevention means being aware that burglary is a profession for some people.  They don’t get into a jewelry store because they’re lucky; they get in because they know alarm systems and safes, and how to defeat them.

A jeweler responding to an alarm call at his business should first, wait in his or her locked vehicle until guard or police assistance arrives (and be certain of the validity of the guard or police assistance).  Then take nothing for granted – be aware that jewelry store burglaries commonly begin on the roof or from a space next door to the jeweler; and be aware that alarms that appear to be “false” may have been planned that way.

Also (as noted in previous issues of “The Best Policy”), jewelers should know their safe ratings – and be aware that a safe without “X6” as a part of the label, (e.g., TRTL 30X6) has only been door-tested.  “X6” means that all six surfaces of the safe were subjected to UL testing.

Also, securely fasten all of the shelves in safes so that they cannot be tipped from below as they were in this example – another proof that this was not these thieves’ first job.

For advice as to what type of safe and alarm system are most appropriate for your jewelry business – rely on your insurance carrier and an insurance agent who is knowledgeable about both the jewelry industry and security, as well as Jewelers Block insurance.

Bob Carroll of Robert G. Carroll and Associates is a Certified Insurance Counselor who has been serving the insurance needs of the jewelry industry for almost 30 years.  He represents Jewelers Mutual and other carriers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  “Jewelers isn’t just ‘what’ we do, it’s all we do.”  Bob can be reached directly at bob-robertgcarroll.com.