Saturday, April 15, 2006

Theft Story is Painful

Yesterday while out shopping with my husband in a large antiques mall, I ran into a long-time dealer/customer who specializes in fine estate jewelry. Knowing I'd spent nearly 14 years in law enforcement, he felt comfortable in sharing his sad story.

The night before, he's received a late night phone call. Another antiques mall at a different location was phoning to tell him that the police had just notified them that they'd had a break-in. He has a booth in this mall. His jewelry booth had just been robbed, and the police were investigating the after-hours theft.

The thieves had pretty much cleaned him out of the good stuff, which they obviously recognized. They broke into the mall, knew exactly what they were looking for, popped his showcase locks (and his were some of the better professional case locks available, not your typical inexpensive showcase slide locks which can be purchased at any hardware store for $5), and apparently left only when the audible alarm went off. That store's audible alarm goes off about two - three minutes after the silent alarm alerts the local police department.

By the time the police arrived, they'd cleaned out 2/3s of his showcase and were gone, leaving only the bottom shelf of lower-end jewelry. This was the second time in six weeks he'd been robbed afterhours at the same store. This particular store has inside video equipment, which they operate only during the regular store hours and not during the night, so no record was made of this theft or the previous one. This shop also did not have deadbolt locks on their exterior doors, making it much easier for thieves to enter.

The jewelry dealer lost more than $50,000 in jewelry, and more than $20,000 in the first theft. He was now pulling his good jewelry from the second antiques mall, thinking that it was possible that the thieves knew where else he displayed, and did not want to tempt them into robbing him at the second store too. Since he also exhibits at shows, he was removing his better inventory with the plan to display it at shows in other states and not take a chance on a late-night break-in at any of the antiques malls where he still has booths.

We talked for a long time about ways to minimize theft and protect inventory from the bad guys. It's clear that he was being targeted, since he was hit twice in a short period of time.

During the first theft, only one other dealer in the shop was robbed - a coin dealer. In the second theft, his jewelry booth was the only booth which was robbed. It's unknown if that is because the audible alarm came on and scared the thieves off, or if they discovered that they could move jewelry easier than coins, or if different thieves were involved, or if they were just tageting this one dealer and being very quick about it. No leads for police yet on either of these thefts, so there's a lot of questions and very few answers.

Unfortunately, the owners of the robbed shop hadn't addressed this very serious problem properly. After the first robbery, they continued to only video-tape their shop during open hours. Their thought process was that shoplifting theft was their major liability, instead of being pro-active in preventing very expensive afterhours robberies. Additionally, they still hadn't yet added solid, heavy-duty deadbolt locks to their doors, which might have actually prevented the second theft.

Had they consulted with the local police department on other measures they could take to minimize problems like this, the story might have been different. Instead, they just went on with business-as-usual, and someone out there recognized the opportunity to steal again, much to the pain of the jewelry dealer.

Do you have a booth in an antiques mall? If your booth was cleaned out in a night-time robbery, could you sustain the loss? Ask yourself how financially painful it would be if most of your antiques were stolen, and then ask yourself the most important question - is the shop I'm in taking the proper measures to protect me?

There's much an antiques mall can do, at minimal or reasonable cost, to clip theft problems in the bud. A video taping system is only good for shoplifting theft if the theft is recognized soon afterwards and reported to the police. Most videos work on a loop system which erases previous recordings after a certain period of time, so if a shoplifting theft is discovered after that time period, it won't show who did the deed. Most thieves have checked out the shop, and many notice whether someone is actually watching the cameras for active shoplifting. Since shops often just don't have the personnel - like the big box stores do - to assign an employee to spend the entire day watching cameras for theft, the video systems don't work well. Professional thieves recognize this, and know they can easily steal a few things here and there, booth by booth.

But it's the really bad guys who are looking for a major hit which will make them a large amount of money quickly. They aren't looking for a small pocketful of items to pawn; they want a large amount of something expensive - like high quality antique jewelry - to grab quickly and run, and they know they need to do it when the shop is closed. This antiques mall was an easy target, and most probably the thieves looked it over again just before the second theft to make sure it could be done. Somehow they knew the video tape wasn't running during the night, and that they wouldn't have to fight with deadbolt locks.

In other words, they were successful because they most likely took the time to find any obstacles which could prevent them from accomplishing their goals.

In any case, our friend the jewelry dealer is out a huge amount of money, and is reconsidering his business plan in terms of how to sell without opening himself to robbery. The second shop he is in has much better security, and he's a bit more confident selling there, although he's pulling his best stock and showing only his medium-level quality until he's confident the thieves aren't following him from shop to shop.

If you are in an antiques mall, ask the owners about their security cameras, deadbolt locks and other security measures they may be taking. And if you aren't comfortable with the answers, ask if they have invited the local police department to visit and suggest improvements the shop owners can make to minimize theft during both day and night hours. Most police departments are quite willing to share their knowledge and experience at no charge - all you need to do is ask.

If the shop owner of the mall you are in doesn't respond positively, ask yourself if you can withstand major theft - because it can happen anywhere, at anytime, and it can definitely happen to YOU.

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