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Jewelers extra vigilant after man robs shop at International Plaza in Tampa

TAMPA — Gabriel King thought his jewelry store was safely guarded by video surveillance, watchful employees and the International Plaza security staff.

But on Monday, an armed robber tested King Jewelers' security, struggling with an employee and then fleeing the mall store with two diamond rings police value at $285,000.

Echoing what other jewelers say in the wake of the robbery, co-owner King said no new security measures are being enacted at his store — just vigilance.

"We're just going to be a little bit more alert," he said. He said the stolen rings were insured.

Jewelry thefts are not uncommon, but a weapon adds an extra layer of risk, said Tampa police spokesman Jim Contento.

"He's willing to fight a female clerk and he's armed," Contento said. "That's a very big concern to the police department."

Retailers should analyze their safety practices, Contento said, and make sure they're not sacrificing safety for service.

"They're thinking of customers and business and trying to be customer-friendly," he said. "But you also need to protect yourself. People will take advantage."

International Plaza general manager Gary Malfroid said the mall has in-house security officers on duty at all times, but would not comment on details of its security operations.

King said many of his customers are regulars and the store doesn't go through small security steps with them. He'll try to get to know all customers better, he said.

Area jewelers said there is a higher awareness after the robbery, but had varying concerns about their own vulnerability.

Amy Sanchez, a manager at Bond Jewelers in Citrus Park, said the store hasn't altered its security procedures.

"If it wasn't this guy, who says it wouldn't be someone else?" Sanchez asked.

Product loss — be it in diamonds or digital cameras -— is a reality of the retail industry, Sanchez said. The best thing a store can do is put security procedures in place to minimize damage.

Bond Jewelers requires shoppers to provide identification when viewing larger merchandise. The store holds the shopper's ID in case he or she decides to dash away with a diamond.

In St. Petersburg, Lithos Jewelry owner Lornie Mueller was unfamiliar with the robbery. Mueller said he has worked in the industry 35 years and has had only one theft: A woman stole a $40 ring from his previous store in Montana. "I didn't even chase her," Mueller said.

Mueller said Lithos Jewelry uses a variety of security measures: a buzzer entrance, video surveillance and a policy of showing one piece at a time. He pays attention to body language.

If a shopper looks fidgety, that sends a warning. Clothing, he said, can be another red flag. But would the King Jewelers robber — dressed in a gray suit — have triggered his shoplifting alarm?

"We probably would have lost a ring," Mueller said.

Police are still looking for the robber, described as a white man, about 6 feet 4 and 180 pounds, between 38 and 40 years old, with dyed blond hair.

Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Sarah Hutchins can be reached at shutchins@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Jewelers extra vigilant after man robs shop at International Plaza in Tampa 07/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 11:27pm]

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