You're Not as Safe as You Might Think
Cautiously, I crept up the subway stairs to street level, and paused. Somewhere nearby, I knew, he was out there looking for me.
My first attempt to elude him in midtown Manhattan hadn't panned out. I had waited downstairs for a subway train to disgorge a crowd of people I could get lost in. But the train produced only a scattering of individuals and they all headed in different directions. No crowd; no hiding. So I waited a few more minutes, hoped for the best and made my move out into the street.
Walking briskly I turned at the nearest corner only a few steps away. Nothing and no one ahead of me looked out of place. I hastened down the block, raising my phone to eye level to use as a mirror. I wanted to check behind me, see if he had found me. I saw enough in the reflection to know he wasn't there. So far, so good.
Around another corner and there was a sanctuary, a branch of the New York Public Library with big picture windows at street level. Perfect! I ducked inside, walked directly to the first row of stacks, picked up a book at random and pretended to nonchalantly look through it. Of course, what I was really doing was studying the foot traffic outside.
It's hard not to attract attention when your hands are shaking, your heart is pounding and your eyes keep darting about, but I guess I did okay since no one looked my way. Two minutes went by, then three, then four. Nothing suspicious -- and certainly not him.
So I put the book back on the shelf and calmly walked to the door. Another pause. A quick look up and down the street, a swift scan of the other side, and I moved on, heading west. But not directly. Although close to my destination, only two block away, I didn't want to approach my objective in a straight line. Too risky. I cut through one of those New York City buildings with a lobby that goes from one street to the next. As far as I could tell, no one was trailing me.
Finally, with just a block to go, I saw that the street in front of my destination was lined with a string of parked trucks. Great, I decided. They would block almost any view of me from the sidewalk. So I walked in the street, gingerly avoiding a number of those aggressive city cabs. Almost there. At what I figured was the right spot, I slipped between two of those trucks and -- yes! -- I was home free. To my great surprise and relief, I had made it back to surveillance class undetected by the instructor who had been hunting me. I had learned my lessons well.
Minutes later, he showed up, clapped me on the shoulder and told me I had done a good job. I felt like a kid again, being congratulated for some small success. The lesson, however, was not kid's play. In the jewelry business, knowing how to shake off someone who is following you may seem like something out of a James Bond movie but it's serious business.
Of course, no one is going to mistake me for James Bond. I sure don't look the part. I don't have fancy spy gadgets. And I don't drink martinis, shaken or stirred.
But what I now have in common with that fictional character is the very real counter-surveillance and personal safety training that a real-life James Bond would have mastered. And now that I have experienced it, I am convinced that everyone in the jewelry world should take this training. That little counter-surveillance exercise I just described is precisely the kind of action that every jeweler should be capable of doing with very little effort. Your life could depend on it.
I also learned a whole lot more at this training. But before I get into that I want to introduce you to the company that taught me all this at a two-day seminar in New York City last October. It was the Skydas Group, a security consulting and threat management company based in the Atlanta area. Skydas has a subspecialty in training folks in the jewelry industry. But it's often busy doing the kinds of security things that you see on TV or the movies -- providing protection for VIPs, training law enforcement officers and State Department officials, and assessing threats for high-profile individuals and companies. It's where security experts go to update their training.
For the jewelry industry, Skydas offers several courses. Counter Surveillance and Surveillance Detection is a good start, and as I said before I consider it a must for anyone involved in any capacity in our industry. Why everyone? Because jewelry thieves will attack you if they so much as suspect that you might be carrying jewelry.
Perhaps the best recent example of that is Howard Hauben, who runs the Centurion show. He travels around the country visiting jewelry stores, carrying only magazines, trade show literature and an iPad. But the thieves don't know that. To them he looks like a juicy target, behaving like a careless sales rep going from one jewelry shop to the next without so much as a glance to see if anyone is paying any attention to him.
So one July afternoon in 2012 he was confronted at gunpoint in a Texas hotel parking lot, ordered to surrender his backpack and phone and told to lie on the ground next to his car, all of which he did. The crooks grabbed the backpack and phone and drove away. It took just seconds.
He was lucky to not have gotten hurt. The police later told him that it was smart of him not to try to explain that he had no jewelry because, they said, the crooks may have then shot him out of frustration.
It's hard to say for certain that Howard would have been able to avoid the attack if he had taken the security training. But the odds would certainly have been on his side had he done so, and followed the training. Experience, security experts say, has taught them that If the bad guys see that you are exercising due diligence with regard to your personal safety, they will pass you by and look for another, easier target.
This is as true for stores as it is for people. Our Skydas instructor, Mike Briant, tells of the dramatic drops in incidents he has seen following implementation of new security procedures. "One jewelry store down South had 13 security-related incidents in a two-year period," he related. "They called us in, took our advice to heart and the number dropped to zero."
To understand the dynamic in which such changes take place, you first have to understand two key factors. The first is that the thieves are professionals. They are not just thugs acting on impulse. They have been trained, many in Colombia, just for this purpose. They usually work in gangs, and mugging you or holding up your store is their livelihood.
The other factor is just as critical but is little-known: most jewelry stores nowadays will, at any given time, have more dollar value tied up in their showcases and vaults than many banks have in cash on hand. So much of banking is now done electronically that the need to have major deposits of cash is not as great as it used to be. But the price of gold, diamonds and watches has climbed, and jewelry stores are stocking just as many of these items as before. Same inventory, but now more valuable.
That makes jewelry stores richer targets than ever, and anyone associated with them is fair game for the thieves. So, you might wonder, just how do you deter potential thieves? The first step is knowing that all such robberies follow a specific cycle, and if you disrupt that cycle, you prevent an "incident." And the first step to learning about the cycle is understanding that planning a heist, even a smash-and-grab, takes quite a bit of time. Too many people make the presumption that because robberies happen quickly that planning for them is minimal. A day or two learning the store's routines, it is often assumed, and that's enough to go on.
The reality is that these gangs spend weeks casing your store, locating the security cameras, learning the store's routines, following sales reps and employees, finding out where store owners live, where they have lunch, in short, uncovering every detail about how things are run. That takes time. It is at this stage that you can most easily disrupt the plan. Once you know who and what to look for -- Mike likes to call them, the "outliers" -- you can take preventive measures. And, as I stated before, if the bad guys see that you are on to them, they will look for easier targets.
A good deal of what to look for is based on common sense, and I would like to say that staying vigilant and observant is second nature for people in our business. But when you actually see what goes on, it's surprising how often and how easy it is to let your guard down. Just look at all the people fiddling with their cell phones, oblivious to what's around them, as they walk down the street.
There is far more that I could go into about what to look for and how to behave than is possible to cover in even a lengthy article. The other parts to the robbery cycle, tips on reading people's facial expressions, how to avoid potentially bad situations, and noticing when normal behavior is suspicious -- all these are covered. And that's only day one.
On day two we turn our attention to automobiles, and it's the dramtic car-chase sort of stuff you see on television, minus the collisions and big explosions. By the end of that day, I had undergone more sudden lane changes, heard more squealing tires and honking horns and made more rapid U-turns than I ever imagined I would ever do. But now I know that if I need to, I can do it.
In the end, what two days of Skydas training has given me is not only a heightened sense of safety but a sharper awareness of things around me. I have even made a game of it. Remember the last time you walked into a big party, a wedding reception or a similar event? Remember how you scanned all the faces in rapid succession, looking for someone you might know? Do you remember feeling how really, really aware you were and that you could almost feel the eyes on you? That's what being hyper-aware is like. I go into that state now whenever I go out in public and remember to do it. It makes me feel safer. I ratchet up my awareness, and keep my wits about me in a way that I never could before. I'm sure James Bond does it, too.--------------------
Although it's only a fraction of what you will learn in the two-day seminar, Mike Briant has also done a webinar with us about security in the jewelry industry, and it is available here. The $29 cost for watching the webinar is by far one of the best investments you can make for yourself and your coworkers -- second only to the full training itself.