The ins and outs of a growing and destructive criminal trend

Brash, audacious, and uniquely effective at targeting small, big-ticket inventory, smash-and-grab burglaries have seen a concerning resurgence in recent years. While these no-nonsense robberies plague nearly every industry with a storefront, the jewelry industry is an especially prime target.

According to the Jewelers' Security Alliance, smash-and-grab thefts jumped 77% in frequency in 2014, causing nearly $78 million in loss, a 17% increase on the previous year. Or as JSA President John J. Kennedy describes the phenomenon, "An explosion."

What makes smash-and-grab and similarly named thefts (such as "grab and run" and "crash and grab") unique, is their spike is concurrent with a general decline in jewelry crime in recent years. 2014 saw an industry-wide crime decline of 2%, and dollar loss figures over the past decade are down 43%. While these thefts are notorious for their speed and unpredictability, there are retail loss prevention solutions to combat their comeback and safeguard your valuable merchandise.

What Do We Mean By Smash-and-Grab?

Generally speaking, smash-and-grab burglaries are exactly the way they sound: criminals break glass displays and store windows, steal all of the merchandise they can carry, and get away before any authorities can be summoned. These crimes can be executed in less than a minute and, if product is identified properly, can be highly lucrative.

Smash-and-grabs tend to be preceded by a store casing where one of the burglars or an accomplice will repeatedly visit the store to pinpoint everything from the fastest ways in and out, to the location of security cameras, to staff weaknesses during shift changes, to, most importantly, the location of the most valuable and portable product.

Other types of smash-and-grab operations are "grab and run" crimes which involve no breaking down of showcases or windows, and instead has a thief grabbing a freestanding display and running off with it. "Crash and grab" operations are when a criminal drives a (typically stolen) vehicle through the front door or wall of a building in order to steal items before making their getaway. Crash and grab jobs, also known as "ram raids," tend to target convenience stores and are usually deployed to heist ATMs.

Why Smash-and-Grab?

Though it may seem counterintuitive to the destruction and violence of the act, smash-and-grabs are generally much safer than standard stick-up robberies for everyone involved. Because they take mere minutes and don't require any kind of interaction with staff, criminals can avoid relying on firearms or dealing with any detainment of workers or customers. And, because they're in and out so quickly, they don't need to deal with police (and their firearms).

“There seems to be more instances where a large number of males go into the store and smash the case and get out of there in 20 or 30 seconds rather than point a gun at a store owner,” Kennedy says.

By eliminating the need for violence and the use of weapons, criminals reduce the risk of catching larger raps; sentences for robbery are significantly lower than murder.

Who is Most Often Targeted?

Smash-and-grabs are generally a plague on jewelry stores. Electronics stores, pawn shops, and department stores are also subject to these types of crimes because of their reliance on display cases, but no other type of store sees the kind of theft that jewelers do.

Not all jewelers are created equal, however. According to the JSA, of the 110 smash-and-grab robberies reported in 2014, nearly half took place in mall jewelry stores. This number may seem counterintuitive, given that mall locations are much more heavily trafficked than other stores. Criminals targeting malls are much more likely to do their research in casing, identifying jeweler locations near exits, and plotting the best time of day to blend into crowds upon escape. Mall locations also tend to have less security measures in place (entrance buzzers and armed guards, for example) compared to standalone stores.

How Can You Defend Against Smash-and-Grabs?

There are a number of measures a jeweler can take to combat smash-and-grab attacks, some more involved than others. As we said in the last section, the presence of a guard is a great way to stop robberies of this nature. Guards also tend to be expensive and, as with the presence of any firearms, the risk of accidental injury is that much higher. Unarmed guards provide a much safer alternative, and can also act as a visual deterrent to any would-be criminal.

Freestanding stores should look into installing an entrance buzzer which can also act as a deterrent to smash-and-grab burglars. The extra time it takes to buzz a customer in can offer a criminal the final second of doubt that stops them from going through with the crime. It can also give staff, and surveillance cameras, time to identify a threat.

Installing well-monitored surveillance cameras is a great way to identify burglars after the fact. While many criminals will obscure their faces during the robbery, security footage is almost always valuable to law enforcement. Having cameras placed outdoors can also help in tracking down suspects by identifying distinguishing vehicle characteristics.

Inside the store, paying attention to the structure and placement of displays can also help reduce the efficacy of a smash-and-grab. Burglary-resistant glazing material can be deployed in high-end showcases to stop the operation in its tracks. Showcases containing the most valuable merchandise should be placed farthest from the exit for multiple reasons: so that staff can identify any thieves during a robbery (as exits tend to be opposite registers in many jewelry stores), to increase the time it takes for a burglar to exit the store, and to deter theft by increasing the difficulty of the operation. If possible, the most valuable merchandise should be housed in a special showroom out of the public eye.

Finally, jewelers can turn to GPS trackers to combat smash-and-grab operations. By placing a bait box among valuable merchandise, during a robbery, criminals can be tracked in real-time by law enforcement and brought to justice. Portable, battery-powered GPS trackers can be built into the pillows of jewelry and watch cases and made to look like common merchandise. When motion is detected, the trackers will spring into action, allowing authorized personnel to follow the movement of the bait box.

As always, all of these ways to fight smash-and-grab operations should be performed in conjunction with local law enforcement. By fostering a relationship with police and government agencies, jewelers are able to pool their information and stop larger crime networks before more stores are victimized.

Published July 28th, 2021