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Eileen McClelland

Reports of Looting Taper Off, but Caution Still Advised

The cities most affected were Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Atlanta.

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REPORTS OF STORE lootings have begun to slow down across the country, according to John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, who is nevertheless waiting to learn the true toll the crime spree took on retail jewelers.

As of Monday, JSA had received reports of 226 cases of jewelry stores in the U.S. being burglarized, vandalized or looted since May 27 in 29 states and in Washington D.C. The states most frequently hit were Illinois, Minnesota and California, and the cities most affected were Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Atlanta.

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“These numbers are very low compared to what will eventually be reported,” Kennedy says. “It takes time for JSA to receive reports from insurance companies, victims, police and others.”

Kennedy advises caution, however, since isolated pockets of crime could flare up, or a new, dramatic event that could set things off again. Crimes against jewelry stores, including looting, burglary and vandalism, occurred alongside otherwise peaceful protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in the custody of police. Store owners said criminal gangs hit one jewelry store after another in certain communities while police were stretched thin or distracted by Black Lives Matter protests.

Most instances were unrelated to the protests. Early in the morning of June 2, for example, a stolen SUV repeatedly slammed into the front window of Westchester Jewelry in Yonkers, NY, breaking both the glass and the security gate, while burglars also broke into a pharmacy across the street.

JSA’s advice is that if there are tension and demonstrations in your area, it is best to close during that time and rely on your insurance coverage. Keep abreast of local happenings and information from police, media and social media. “I know people are desperate to be open and it’s very understandable,” Kennedy says, “but you should close if there is the expectation of trouble in your town.”

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In many instances jewelry store owners reported break-ins to police, who were unable to stick around until the store was secured, leaving the business owners to defend themselves against more criminal activity with guns, hammers or even a broom.

In St. Louis, a 77-year-old retired police captain, Dave Dorn, was shot and killed on June 2, while working as a security guard at a pawn and jewelry shop.

Larry Spicer, VP, loss prevention & risk management services for Jewelers Mutual Insurance Group, says the health and welfare of clients come first, and jewelers are not expected to defend their stores on their own in the face of imminent threat, in order to be covered by insurance.

If the police respond to an alarm, but need to leave the scene, Spicer says his expectation would be that the insured business owner notify Jewelers Mutual as to the damage and take whatever means they are reasonably able to do to mitigate further damage. Such mitigation measures are not required, however if an active riot threatens their safety.

Store owners responding to an INSTORE Brain Squad survey last week, said that even if they were not directly affected by crime, the timing of the attacks put a kink in their plans to reopen with any semblance of normalcy while leaving them feeling anxious.

“We haven’t been affected and I pray it stays that way,” says Marc Majors of Sam L. Majors in Midland, TX. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it every single night when I go home and my anxiety levels have definitely risen.”

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Jeremy Auslander’s store, Roxbury Jewelry, in downtown Los Angeles is inside a larger building so physical damage wasn’t an issue, but the overall effect on business has been devastating. The neighborhood was the site of multiple protests, which led to building lockdowns and public fears. As a result, he was forced to keep the store closed even after the COVID-19 shutdown was lifted. “It was a pretty heavy blow. What looked like a slow reopening was stifled quickly, extending our inability to work. Street-level retailers and plazas by us are boarded up and did have graffiti and damage.”

Even rumors of potential crime have affected a return to normal business, says Tom R. Nelson, owner of Nelson Jewelry in Spencer, IA. The entire town was on edge leading up to a protest on June 4 that turned out to be perfectly peaceful. In preparation for that, though, Nelson took all customer goods to a bank vault, packed vaults as full as he could, locked more inventory in storage tubs in a closet and took all giftware to the basement. “And all for naught, but how would you know? Better safe than sorry.”

Rachel Pfeiffer, owner of Lane & Kate in Cincinnati, says that while neighboring businesses had windows broken, her store was somehow spared, but she boarded up afterward as a precaution. “I think it was very sudden and therefore completely random who was hit and who was not. I’d been taking precautions due to COVID-19 with having less product visible and so perhaps they felt there wasn’t anything in the store to take. The stores that were hit had a significant amount of product visible in them.”

Rex Solomon of Houston Jewelry in Houston decided that he’d just keep his store boarded up through the summer. “No damage, yet, but we boarded up for the closure in March, and painted the boards to march the rest of building, and plan to leave them up until hurricane season is over,” he says.

Donald Killelea of Killelea Jewelers in Midlothian, IL, was among those whose store was looted, but he says he lost only watchbands and inexpensive bracelets. “The threat in our community is much lower now.”

Other advice from JSA:
  • Leaving product out is a magnet, making it more likely you will be hit. Put all goods in a safe or a vault at night. Put the silver stuff away and the low-end watches. Lock them in a closet. Make sure it’s all out of sight. There have been no attempts at safe entry or removal of safes.
  • Keep showcases unlocked and opened; don’t cover them with anything.
  • Inventory records and other important papers should be kept somewhere safe or in the cloud.
  • Have a list of reputable contractors handy, for cleanup.
  • If your store’s windows or cases have been broken, save glass if there is evidence of blood on it so police can track DNA. Look for other evidence. “People leave all kinds of stuff in the store. They drop stuff. You’re not going to get forensics to respond in the middle of a riot so you’re better off doing it yourself.”
  • Cultivate a friend in the police department, someone you can call other than 911, who can offer informed and professional advice.
  • Long-term, invest in a security gate and burglar-resistant windows.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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