There’s been a sharp rise lately in smash-and-grab robberies at California jewelry stores, according to the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA).
The group’s weekly newsletter on Thursday bore the heading “California Jewelers Under Attack” and listed 14 smash-and-grab incidents in the state from late June to early August.
This latest wave of robberies is unprecedented, said Jewelers’ Security Alliance president John Kennedy, whose organization alerts jewelers to crime in the industry. The spike in thefts follows a year of record-breaking crime in the jewelry sector, as seen in the JSA’s annual crime report for 2022.
Smash-and-grabs occurred frequently from about May 2021 until May 2022, Kennedy told Rapaport News on Monday. “Then it calmed down for a while, and just literally a little over a month ago, it returned…. Some of the losses are very significant.”
The perpetrators seem to be organized groups of young people targeting chain retail stores in malls and shopping centers, Kennedy said. They enter the store quickly, smash jewelry display cases, grab as much merchandise as they can, and run off to waiting cars. The entire crime takes just a few minutes.
It’s difficult to determine why this type of crime is spiking now in California, Kennedy continued, noting that the latest incidents were primarily in Los Angeles County. He attributed the rise at least in part to copycat criminals. “It’s just like when crazes happen. People see it can work, and then other gangs emulate it.”
Local and federal law enforcement is working on solving these crimes, but their random nature, the speed with which they unfold, and the fact that many of the perpetrators are not known criminals make it difficult, he explained; the authorities have caught few suspects.
“These are small-time criminals, not master jewel thieves,” he said. “These are kids going in with hammers. You can recruit a kid without any criminal record. There’s no barrier to entry and no skill attached at all.”
The robberies cause havoc in the malls, he went on. “The smashing glass is extraordinarily loud and could be mistaken for gunfire. It’s very bad for the industry. You do not want to discourage shoppers from going into malls or give the impression that jewelry stores are dangerous.”
Chain stores in malls have several advantages for this type of crime, according to Kennedy. First, national-scale retailers will almost never keep a gun in the store unless it’s in use by a hired guard. “[With an] independent jeweler, you’re not sure who is behind the counter and what they will attempt to do.”
In addition, criminals can enter a mall with ease; they don’t have to be buzzed in like they would in a standalone store. “Once you hit the mall store, you just disappear into a chaotic scene, with a vehicle or multiple cars parked outside.”
Main image: A smashed window at a jewelry store. (Shutterstock).