Why Are So Many Jewelry Stores Being Robbed? A Manhattan jewelry store was robbed last week — in broad daylight! NPR's Rachel Martin speaks to numbers expert Mona Chalabi, who says the statistics on jewelry store heists will surprise you.

Why Are So Many Jewelry Stores Being Robbed?

Why Are So Many Jewelry Stores Being Robbed?

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A Manhattan jewelry store was robbed last week — in broad daylight! NPR's Rachel Martin speaks to numbers expert Mona Chalabi, who says the statistics on jewelry store heists will surprise you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: 52.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: 11:52.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: 25.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: 6.1125.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: 25,846.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time for some number crunching from data expert Mona Chalabi from fivethirtyeight.com. She's given us this number of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: 1,374.

MARTIN: That is the number of jewelry stores that were robbed in 2013. And there is something about a jewelry store being robbed that seems like something of another time, right? But it does happen. This past week even, a jewel heist happened in the middle of the day in Midtown Manhattan. So to talk more about this, Mona Chalabi does join us from our studios in New York. Hey, Mona.

MONA CHALABI: Hi.

MARTIN: So more than 1,300 of these crimes happened in 2013. Can you put that into context? Is that a lot?

CHALABI: Obviously not every big number is necessarily a worrying one. So 1,374 robberies actually means nothing unless we know how many jewelry stores there are. And the answer, it turns out, comes from something called the Economic Censes, which counts up how many businesses there are in the country by type of business. And it showed that there were 23,394 jewelry stores in America. And those are just stores that sell things like watches and precious gems. So we're only talking high-value items here. Anyway, that works out about one in 16 jewelry stores getting robbed last year, which really does seem like a pretty high number.

MARTIN: And when we say they were robbed, does that mean the thieves actually got away with it?

CHALABI: Well, it's hard to know on kind of a robbery-by-robbery basis, but we do know is that those robberies resulted in losses of $66.5 million. So clearly, some of them were successful.

MARTIN: (Laughter). Yeah.

CHALABI: But then we also know that they were about 422 arrests last year for jewelry crimes. So that shows that not everyone is getting away with it. And we should note that the robber in this particular instance, in the New York heist, is still to be apprehended.

MARTIN: So what do we know, if anything, about how these robberies go down, Mona? I mean, it does seem really risky in an age when there are video cameras everywhere. And I imagine security in these stores is pretty tight.

CHALABI: Yeah. Well, luckily the data is incredibly rich so we have some answers here. So if we go back to the story earlier on this week. The man was posing as a delivery worker. And maybe that's not so weird because we know that 27 percent of these jewel robbers just enter straight in through the front door.

And while there were 1,374 robberies of jewelry stores, there were only 40 robberies that took place off the premises. So I imagine that must be things like, you know, intercepting trucks. And that used to be much higher. Fifteen years ago, there were eight times the number of off-premise robberies. So in that respect, this New York robber wasn't so weird either.

MARTIN: So this is the norm. If you're going to rob a jewelry store, you're more likely to just show up and do it there?

CHALABI: And head straight in. That's what the data looks like, right. And one reason why this New York heist really kind of grabbed headlines was that it occurred in the afternoon or in broad daylight as news outlets put it. And actually, that's not so weird either. Very few of these robberies are happening in the dark of night, but afternoon still kind of weird. So the numbers show that most of the robberies take place between 10 and 11 a.m. or between 6 and 7 p.m. And apparently, that's because that's when stores are opening or closing.

MARTIN: So how do they actually do this? I mean, do they just kind of slip in in disguise and pretend to try something on and just slip it into their bag and walkout or what?

CHALABI: No, that's a different kind of crime actually. So there are separate stats on theft. So we know, for example, that there were 476 thefts that were a grab and run, 98 that involved some kind of distraction, and then there's this really infamous type that's always romanticized in films. That's thefts that involve switching fake jewelry for the real deal. And there were 23 of those last year.

MARTIN: Twenty-three people really do that. That's amazing.

CHALABI: They do. But robbery is very different. So the FBI definition of robbery says that it has to involve force or the threat of force or violence. And maybe that's where we get the impression that this has really become a thing of the past because in the early '90s, jewelry store robberies resulted in five times the number of homicides.

MARTIN: I mean, I'm still curious because it does seem anachronistic when you think about the risk versus reward here in an age when there's all this online theft. Remember there was that big security breach at Target with all the credit card numbers. And that seems like the kind of crime that's far more likely to happen in 2014.

CHALABI: You're absolutely right. So last year, the Federal Trade Commission received over 35,000 complaints about credit card fraud. But even as long ago as 1923, jewelry stores were reporting losses of $2 million from robberies. That's the equivalent of $28 million today. So I reckon that no matter how big credit card fraud becomes, there will always be some individuals with an interest in stealing things behind glass that sparkle.

MARTIN: (Laughter). Mona Chalabi from fivethirtyeight.com. Hey, thanks so much, Mona.

CHALABI: Thank you.

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