Thieves Strike Shows' Weak Spots

Despite increased security, convention center events still attract thieves, especially after hours and on the loading docks.

The issue was forced into the foreground after some high-profile thefts occurred this fall. At the "Special Delivery" jewelry trade show in October at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, a band of thieves reportedly stole some $2.5 million worth of gold and jewelry in what police have called a "distraction robbery." The criminal investigation is ongoing, and Javits officials declined to discuss the center's security, citing policy.

And in a less costly but more ironic incident, a surveillance camera on display was stolen from a booth at one of the largest security trade shows, the ASIS International 2004 Seminar & Exhibits Conference at the Dallas Convention Center in September. "Overnight, you really have to rely on venue security," says Elaine Beckstrom, marketing manager for Minneapolis, MN-based Zareba Systems, the stolen camera's rightful owner. And that, she says, is where the problem lies, both overnight on the show floor and during the shipping of product palettes. Beckstrom has begun shrink-wrapping her palettes in opaque plastic, so the contents are hidden, and therefore less tempting to would-be thieves. "We haven't had any problems with theft from—or of—our palettes since we started shrink-wrapping with black plastic," she says.

Especially at shows exhibiting valuable consumer items, such as jewelry or electronics, planners should actively investigate venue security before shipping any goods to the site. "A lot of convention centers and other venues aren't necessarily paying top dollar for their security personnel," says Chris Grniet, vice president with New York City-based security consultancy Kroll, Schiff & Associates. "So it's important to do some level of investigation into the convention holder or host of the event to make sure that adequate security is in place."