32-Year Jewelers Security Alliance President John Kennedy Reflects on Career Highs

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

After 32 years at the helm of the Jewelers Security Alliance (JSA), President John Kennedy has seen many changes. He joined JSA in 1992 after serving as the Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation and other positions in government, academia, and a nonprofit organization. Kennedy is just one of four JSA Presidents since the organization’s inception in 1897. He is also the recipient of many industry accolades, including JCK’s Person of the Year in 2002, the Lifetime Achievement Award for both the American Gem Society in 2008 and Jewelers of America’s Gem Awards in 2021, and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee’s Stanley Schechter Award in 2021.

In the span of three decades, many innovations have occurred in jewelry security. And while JSA’s Board of Directors searches for a new President—Kennedy retires at the end of 2024—AGTA asked him to weigh in on career highlights.

Jewelers Security Alliance

AGTA: What are some high points or successes of your career with JSA?

John Kennedy: One of the biggest is that homicides have been drastically reduced. In 1991, 37 jewelers were killed in crimes against the industry. In the last six years, there have only been one or two or none. I believe this reduction happened firstly because JSA has been working with law enforcement to provide information to tie cases together. JSA will give law enforcement agencies printouts of gangs doing things around the country, and crime goes down because they can arrest bad actors quicker. Today, JSA can call offices around the country, and they know us and know we can help them. Law enforcement knows that if you need help with jewelry crime, they can call JSA.

Secondly, JSA is putting out vastly more information about suspects, scams, crime prevention advice, and tools to help reduce crime. Also, the nature of crime has changed. When I first came in, there were heavy sales losses on the road that equaled the total dollars of all other jewelry crimes combined. Now there are fewer people on the road, so crime has changed drastically.

Another highlight is that the JSA is close partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and law enforcement more than it was previously. JSA is quite “built into” the FBI’s information and cooperation. That means JSA provides a lot of information that they ask us for, and we don’t have to reach out to them because they reach out to us. JSA knows FBI agents in almost every major market on a personal basis. And if we don’t know someone in a market, we know someone at headquarters. The FBI has been welcoming to JSA on jewelry cases, so JSA gets legally appropriate information from the FBI, and we give information to it.

Thirdly, JSA has greatly expanded the number of bulletins it puts out. It used to be just four or five a year before the digital age, but now we share maybe 250 pictures of suspects a year; we create one alert a week. That’s a lot of information shared on criminals in a year. We send these alerts to a huge number of recipients, and we get 20,000 opens a week. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving, people open our eblasts. In fact, open numbers go up a bit during the holidays. JSA eblasts are opened all the time! JSA reaches a huge audience in the industry. Our open rates range from the lowest in the mid-50s, to 62% to 73%. We send out emails twice; the second ones we send to the email addresses that have not opened it, and we might get another 10%. Crime always leads.

Jewelers Security Alliance

AGTA: What are some of the most challenging moments of your career?

JK: When a key employee retires or leaves, things change, and the organization must adjust. Several years ago we had the most senior detective doing crime who retired in his 70s. Also, when Helen Buck retired, that was tough. She was more than the office manager, and passed away in 2018 at age 82, just a year after she retired. And now this change, my retirement, will be an adjustment. These are the most critical moments, personnel change, because JSA is small. JSA has employees who are mainstays of the organization.

AGTA: What safety or security improvements have you seen in the jewelry industry over your career?

JK: First, the quality of surveillance cameras has gone up drastically. Thirty years ago, we used to get pictures that were useless—so dark that you couldn’t possibly recognize anyone. Now, images are crystal clear. In alarms, they’ve improved, but they have not been a game changer. In safety, there aren’t as many changes, but there are not as many salespeople on the road anymore so crime in that area has been reduced. There have also been big improvements in credit card fraud with chip cards. Jewelers didn’t do that, but chip cards have made credit card fraud more difficult.

Most things have not changed. You have tracking technology to put in bags to track jewelry that has resulted in arrests. They’re not ubiquitous enough to be game changers, but they have helped some. Crime is more the same today, in the sense of what happens, as it was 30 years ago; it has not evolved into a brand-new thing. Yes, there is ransomware and cyber security crime, but it’s not here in way that is dominant.

There are, however, basic moves that I wish jewelers would make more consistently to thwart crime. For example, remember the rules about showing product—this is a big thing that I see. People leave cases open and pull out too much product. They are so interested in making a sale that they forget about their own protocols. They also need to keep showcases locked.

[Author’s dogs bark in the background.]

AGTA: What about dogs, how do you feel about them as a form of security or protection?

JK: Dogs? People swear by having a dog in the store because criminals would just as soon go somewhere else. There are people who swear by dogs at home and in store. In fact, JSA’s initial logo was a dog on a safe.

Jewelers Security Alliance

AGTA: What opportunities exist for the industry to elevate its safety and security practices?

JK: One of the most low-cost ways to elevate safety and security is to educate your staff. This will save you more money than anything else you do. There’s no magic bullet and it’s not totally cost free, it takes time, but training is not a dollar thing. Have a training session each week for 15 minutes. Training has the biggest impact on reducing crime. That, and putting product away at night. Don’t leave it out in the showcases overnight where you can have a big loss. There are steps to improve for every type of crime.

AGTA: What is the greatest threat to jeweler security?

JK: The threat of violence—will you get hurt? Product can always be replaced, but we don’t want people to be in hospital or dead. You can’t fight back because you risk being shot. Some independent jewelers have guns, and what can happen is that you think you are really good at gun play and you shoot someone else, maybe a suspect when he is fleeing, and then you are indicted for homicide or manslaughter because the person is a not threat when they’re fleeing. Jewelers have been charged. I have long advocated for not fighting back, it’s too dangerous. Customers and innocent bystanders can get hurt.

AGTA: What’s on your agenda for the rest of the year?

JK: I want to clean up this office, that’s my No. 1 goal. No 2 is to help orient my successor, who has not yet been chosen. I want to get that person up to speed. When I was hired, I worked with Jim White for a year. I’m not going to work with my replacement for a whole year, but I will clue them in on things, and then they will make their own procedures. The person will have to know what went on beforehand, and there are some technical projects that we are working on. We want to send out text messages to people in emergency situations, and we are acquiring significant analytical programs and digital tools to help us analyze our cases and put them in forms that people can understand and utilize. I write an Alert every week, and there is the regular course of business. We also hired an additional detective with eminent credentials, and we are taking him around to the shows. The staff is doing a lot of travel.

John Kennedy, Jewelers Security Alliance
John Kennedy, Jewelers Security Alliance

AGTA: What are you going to do in retirement?

JK: Relax, though I will remain secretary of the 24 Karat Club. There’s a certain amount of work that I’ll do. I’ll also garden, golf, and play with my grandson. I have no other plans, though my wife and I like to go to art museums together. I’ve been working a long time, and I want to take a rest. I don’t want to keep getting up at 5:30 a.m. to commute to New York City!

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