At about 9pm on April 11, 2013 a group of 5 men forced their way into an apartment in Meriden, Connecticut in the Northeastern US and overpowered and restrained four people inside.  The apartment was reportedly company-rented and used by employees of Lenox Jewelers in Fairfield who frequently transited between that store and another store in neighboring Massachusetts.  Reports indicate that two employees of the store were likely followed after closing at 8pm and were initially targeted as stepped from their vehicle.  They were then forced into the apartment where the other two employees were.  They bound them and blindfolded them with pillow cases.  Then they separated the employees with four of the assailants taking two of the jewelry store employees back to the store while the fifth man remained at the apartment to guard the other two employees.  When they got to the store they forced the two employees to disarm the security system and stole approximately $5million in jewels.  They then left the two employees bound in the store and notified their accomplice guarding the other two in the apartment.  Upon receiving word the heist was successful he left the remaining two employees bound in the apartment.   Five men were arrested weeks after the robbery and are awaiting trial.

While most tiger kidnappings tend to involve holding family members or other loved ones hostage to force a person with special access to comply in this particular case it involved holding co-workers hostage.  This crime has been prevalent in Ireland and the UK but less so in the US.

This incident raises two interesting points – one about the presence of pre-incident indicators and the second about who is an “at-risk” person.

When the robbers were escorting the two store employees back to the store they made a comment to one that he “drives too fast” indicating that they likely had him under surveillance for a period of time prior to the incident.  Additionally a neighbor at the apartment complex observed and noted the kidnappers’ car conducting surveillance on the morning of March 30.  The neighbor noted the car’s plate number and gave it to the police after the incident which contributed to the arrest of the suspects.  This means that (1) the surveillance was occurring at least 11 days prior to the crime and probably even earlier (2) the surveillance activity was noticeable to someone who was paying attention to the environment.  Interestingly in an unrelated case in a New York City suburb law enforcement was conducting surveillance outside the home of a suspected drug dealer and were detected by neighbors.  Local residents noticed a car with occupants sitting on a quiet suburban street and questioned them what they were doing there.  This incident illustrates that even professional surveillance efforts can be detected if people pay attention to their surroundings.

We often discuss that key times for heightening alertness include arrivals and departures (especially from home and work) and locations/zones of predictability.  We also state that security measures should be scalable and in context with the person’s risk profile.  Therefore a person who believes he or she may be facing a demonstrable threat or is working/living in a high threat environment should devote more time and effort to practicing individual protective measures.  A person at less risk should still be aware but may not need to expend a great deal of effort.

In this case it’s likely the jewelry store employees who became victims did not consider themselves to be “at-risk”.  While they probably recognized the risk of robbery as a professional hazard they likely thought of it in the context of a classic armed robbery at the place of business and not a tiger kidnapping involving elaborate planning.  It’s important when considering your risk profile to accurately assess the potential threats you may face and the vulnerabilities in your lifestyle.  Without an honest appreciation of these it’s difficult to determine the level of mitigation and countermeasures you need to put in place.  You don’t need to be a millionaire, a celebrity or a politician to be “at-risk”.  A variety of factors in your professional and or personal life can raise your profile.

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