Jewellery and watch shops are being hit by violent gangs, fraudsters and opportunist smash-and-grab criminals 50% more often this year than last.
London is suffering from the highest rise, particularly from violent gangs travelling on stolen mopeds. Police statistics show that of 22,000 mopeds stolen in the UK last year, 15,000 were from London.
High profile raids involving gangs on mopeds at Watches of Switzerland, Boodles, Watchfinder and Mappin & Webb over the past year are among 24,294 reported crimes in the 12 months to April reported to London’s Metropolitan Police.
The shocking rise in watch and jewellery incidents has been recorded by nationwide security specialist UK Protection, which says that Rolexes, in particular, have become a tradeable currency within a criminal underworld that is taking greater risks as the chances of arrest fall.
Andy Fairbanks, managing director for UK Protection and a former police officer of 12 years, says that police budget cuts are making it less likely for thieves to be caught, which is emboldening them to ramp up their activity. “The rise is down to police cuts. The deterrent isn’t there,” he insists.
UK Protection’s biggest client is The Watches of Switzerland Group (formerly known as Aurum Holdings), providing security staff for Mappin & Webb, Goldsmiths and Watches of Switzerland stores. It also supports LVMH, a number of Bond Street boutiques and some independent jewellers.
UK Protection provides a range of training courses for retail staff including ‘raid training’ where staff are put through terrifying simulations of how violent raids might unfold so that they do not panic if they are targeted.
The company also runs surveillance and intelligence-led operations that track known criminals that might be planning robberies.
The UK Protection approach encompasses physical security in the form of guards, plain clothes patrols and surveillance teams but prefers to focus on prevention of incidents in the first place by training store staff on how to minimise the risk of being hit.
“Staff training can reduce crime and keep people safe,” says Mr Fairbanks.
Raid training is the most dramatic of the courses offered by UK Protection, but staff can also be educated to minimise the risk of more petty crimes such as snatches. “Policy and procedure is vital, and companies like The Watches of Switzerland Group that invest in maintaining high standards are best prepared,” Mr Fairbanks says.
The simplest example is a common snatch incident, where somebody being shown luxury watches are given a chance when a staff member turns away or even leave the store. “It is incredible to see this sort of lapse when we view incidents on CCTV,” Mr Fairbanks says.
Staff can be trained to see customers behaving suspiciously, and alerting security staff to take extra care. They are also instructed on how to ensure their own safety if there is a more aggressive incident.
Mr Fairbanks believes the industry has to work more collaboratively to turn the tide on the rising flood of incidents. The insurance industry, he believes, is partly to blame because it focuses too much on physical protection like safes, locks, defences like smoke guard and unbreakable glass. “Investing in staff training will improve security more than investing in the physical side of things,” Mr Fairbanks suggests. “But the insurers ask for hardware solutions in order to provide cover and do not insist on the staff training. Insurers want to lower risk, but are almost ignoring the most important factor.”
In common with most security measures, nothing is fool proof, and Mr Fairbanks suggests that the aim should be to put criminals off targeting your store. He says that the major multiples are improving security, particularly The Watches of Switzerland Group, which has been raided three times in Central London in the past year. This is making independent jewellers more vulnerable, because they are seen as softer targets. “Indies are much worse at security than the likes of Aurum (The Watches of Switzerland Group) and LVMH. They need to learn from the biggest and best or risk becoming targets,” Mr Fairbanks states.