There hardly seems to be a week that goes by without seeing reports of another band that have left gear in their van overnight and had it stolen. These sort of thefts can destroy a band, particularly if the losses aren’t covered by insurance. But even if insured and the company pays out, sourcing replacement gear takes time once the payout is received (assuming the payout even covers the full cost of replacement stuff), so tours can be disrupted or cancelled.
It’s not just bands that get stuff stolen – it’s a crime that targets anyone leaving stuff in vans, hence why you’ll see plumbers, builders, electricians etc unloading their vans at night and have them labelled with signs warning “no tools are left in this vehicle overnight”.
Most thefts reported by bands seem to be where the van is broken into, but some involve the van being stolen, or distraction thefts where the van is open and people aren’t paying attention and have some toerag quickly grab something and run off.
For this reason we’ve trawled through the advice given by various police forces to bring you some tips….
1. One problem for bands is that when on tour they’re often not familiar with the local area to know what areas are high crime, and where is a safe place to park (assuming anywhere is safe), so park wherever possible in a well lit public area or a good car park. The Park Mark website is a good place to check where to park as it contains a database of car parks that have been vetted by the Police and has measures in place in order to create a safer environment for both you and your vehicle. This site is recommended by the police.
2. If at all possible, when parking off street, park with the rear doors right up against a wall so they can’t be opened without moving the vehicle.
3. Check all the doors are locked – this is essential, especially if you use a fob to lock the doors as thieves can use devices that block the signal.
4. Don’t have your band name plastered all over the van – that’s like having a big neon sign saying “Band with expensive gear in van”. If you want to have your logo on the van, consider using magnetic signs that you can remove at night leaving your van a lot less of an obvious target.
5. Make sure anyone looking in through the windows can’t see anything worth stealing.
6. Fit an alarm
7. Look at fitting devices to protect the locking mechanism from being forced – Check Armaplate as one example of options available – www.armaplate.com
8. Seriously look into getting a secure cage fitted in the back of the van. If its a van with just rear doors to access the cargo compartment and standard locks, these are easily forced, but if you’ve got a steel cage fitted then opening the van doors still doesn’t get them access to snatch your gear. Remember that the harder it is for them to get in, the longer it takes and the less likely they are to succeed.
9. If staying in a hotel or at someones house, take the guitars, mics and other high value easily portable items inside overnight. Yes it’s a pain to have to unload half the gear then re-load the next morning, but if you get the van broken into, that extra effort could be the difference between cancelling a tour and being able to continue but with a borrowed backline. Unless the thieves have a van with them they’re unlikely to steal big heavy stuff such as a bass cab, but a guitar in a nice handy carry case is easy to walk off with.
10. Make sure your van has an immobiliser and an alarm.
11. Use a steering lock.
12. Wherever possible ensure your gear is marked. OK not everything can be marked easily, but if you can mark it easily then do so – it makes it a lot harder to sell if stolen.
13. Insurance – make sure you know if your policy covers equipment left in the van overnight. If your policy doesnt cover that then find out if you can get that added to the policy (depending on price). This is where some of the security ideas can help reduce your premiums – if you’ve got strengthened locks, an alarm and immobiliser then your insurer is likely to charge lower premiums than if you don’t take those precautions.
Some of the measures listed here will cost money, such as getting a cage fitted, but the choice is – do you spend the money to reduce the risks or do you just hope you don’t get all your gear stolen.
Sadly, despite all the precautions you take, there is always the risk of something being stolen (although taking proper precautions will reduce the risk), so it is strongly advised that you keep a record of all your equipment. A list of what was stolen plus any serial numbers, details of identifying marks, and ideally photos makes it a lot easier for police and yourselves to alert the shops that might buy musical equipment, and it also makes it a lot quicker and easier for you to circulate the information on facebook etc to get people looking out for it.
Sometimes thefts do have a happy ending – in May this year, Beholder bass player Si Fielding was reunited with his stolen bass just a couple of weeks after it was stolen. The details including serial number plus photo had been widely circulated and someone who picked it up at a car boot sale googled and found it was Si’s stolen bass and returned it to him.
Sadly most don’t end so well. Brighton band Vier lost everything when their van was broken into, although they found some pedals and leads in a cash converters store where the thieves had pawned them. The band involved the police and the guy who pawned the stuff got a slap on the wrist (40 hours community service). It was 10 months between the items being found and the police finishing with them and returning them to the band – sadly most of the instruments and equipment were never found, and the band has pretty much been out of action ever since.