A gigging musician – who also happens to be a deputy sheriff – gives advice on what you can do to prevent music instrument theft.
This post on preventing music instrument theft was written by Jerry Cress for GearTrack’s blog. Reprinted with permission.
When you buy music instruments and gear, three things you should do right away to help you recover your equipment if it is ever stolen include:
1. Have the original owner, if you buy from a private seller, provide you with documentation to this effect: “On this date (insert date), I sold (insert equipment), serial # (insert serial number), to (your name) for the amount of (insert price).”
2. Look into all the details of your home and car insurance policies. Our drummer bought a cargo trailer to haul all our stuff in. When checking with his insurance company, he found that the trailer was covered, as well as the contents inside that were his – but the rest of the band’s equipment wasn’t. Spend some money on instrument insurance, and get the stuff covered.
3. Make sure you keep a record of every piece of equipment you have. Everything! As a police officer, if I find your BOSS Delay Pedal in the back seat of a car, chances are the driver knows where your Strat is, too.
Lock your doors
Most thieves are, generally speaking, lazy. They go for the easiest prey. Therefore, a locked door will make most “amateur” thieves move on to easier targets, and in my experience, there are actually very few “professional” thieves. Most are what we call “snatch-and-go.”
Keep a clean car
Never unnecessarily leave your gear in a vehicle. As soon as you get to your destination, unload it. Don’t leave your guitar, drums, or keyboards on the back seat where everyone walking by can see them while you’re inside the bar looking for where all the power outlets are.
Stay out of the dark
Don’t park your van, bus, or trailer in the back lot of a seedy motel or club. Park it under lights, and as close to the venue as you can. Check on it occasionally. When you’re in the venue playing the gig and all your extra stuff is out in your vehicle, don’t park way out in the back lot to make room for patrons. The “bad guys” can hear you from the parking lot – they know you’re busy! Check on your vehicles during breaks.
Work as a team
Never leave your stuff unattended when loading or unloading for the gig. We always have one of our wives stand by the trailer and one stand in the venue while we load and unload. It only takes a couple of seconds for someone to walk by your trailer, grab a guitar case and be gone. Also, as a general rule, we don’t let bar staff or “fans” help us load or unload.
Re-think your rehearsal space
Think about where and how you practice. Sure it’s cool to be out in the buddy’s garage with the door open, jammin’ real loud and having some fun. But you’re advertising what you have and where you are. Everyone in the neighborhood now knows that there is a Marshall stack and a Gibson Les Paul right down the street. I personally know three garages in my district that have full PA gear, drums, and lights sitting in them right now, all because I’ve been to the house for noise complaints, or just drove by on patrol while they happen to be practicing.
Which brings up another point: Most garages are easy to break into. They usually have very flimsy locks and lots of windows with single pane glass. And the garage doors themselves aren’t usually locked. Automatic garage door openers will give under very little force. They’re designed that way in case of emergency.
If you practice in a garage, take the time and money to install good locks (deadbolts), and cover the windows. Don’t store gear in the garage. I know it’s a pain to haul all that stuff, but what would you rather do, haul the stuff, or not have it at all?
Cover your windows
Don’t leave your windows uncovered. Blinds or curtains can go along way in deterring theft. You don’t want people from the outside knowing what you’ve got on the inside.
Invest in lights and alarm systems
Burglars hate light. Outside lighting is one of the best investments you can make, and motion-activated lighting is very effective. Many alarm systems are pretty reasonable in price. I recommend going with a system that is monitored and notifies the appropriate agency if the alarm is activated. Outdoor lighting and alarm systems can actually lower your house insurance premiums. Check with your insurance company.
GearTrack is an online registry that aims to deter music instrument theft and aid in recovery. Instrument owners can itemize their collections and victims of theft can send stolen alerts to the WatchDog network and access tools for search and recovery. Buyers and sellers can easily search serial numbers before trading and selling their gear. Learn more and register your instruments at Gear-Track.com.
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16 thoughts on “Tips from a cop to help prevent music instrument theft”
Since you mentioned that one should choose a rehearsal space that can keep instruments safe, this article can also help businesses such as bars and music stores to keep their instruments safe as well. My tip for them is to find a locksmith to install locks and bolts in all entrances inside a business property. Doing this will help deter robbers. Aside from that, it can let customers see how a business is determined to create a safe place for them to hang out and enjoy, thus increasing the chance of repeat customers.
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I have had insurance to cover my music gear going on 5 years now and it only cost me $125.00 a year to have $25,0000 in coverage…Also In bands I have been a part of we usually load in together and load out together..Safety in numbers and there is always a bat within reach …..A little advice for those who drink too much or partake in illegal drug use at their gigs is that you are become an easy target to be robbed and or have your gear stolen…..just saying
Good stuff guys! Thanks for the advice and thanks for your service in law enforcement. Have to check my insurance policy, install lighting and get to work on my inventory now, see ya.
Excellent advice. In the nearly 40 years of playing as a pro, I never fail to be amazed at how easy it is to have gear stolen if you’re not taking preventive measures. We’ve always had a policy that no piece of gear ever goes unattended. On the few occasions we’ve slipped, we’ve lost tuners, mics, guitars, and more. The craziest one was a heavy 2×12 midrange cabinet, maybe 40″ x 30″ x 30″. Truck was left unattended for less than 60 seconds. The thieves had quickly dropped the cabinet in tall grass next to the club parking lot, hoping we wouldn’t notice it was gone, and that they could return to pick it up after we left. We did inventory before leaving, and were completely baffled about its absence. We searched high and low with no luck, and eventually noticed only one other car, a small sport convertible, left in the lot, with two guys claiming they had lost their keys. They eventually claimed they found their keys and took off. Our bassist eventually found the cabinet in the grass. No idea how those guys thought they were going to get the cabinet in that little car.
As a police detective who works stolen property cases make sure that you have a TON of clear PERFECT pictures of your gear. Fuzzy, poorly lighted, out of focus crap taken with your cell phone will not cut it. Make sure that the serial number or OAN (Owner Applied Number such as the last 4 of your SSN or DL are written or engraved on the item) are prominently featured in your photos. In the state where I work the police can only recovered POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED stolen gear. Just because you think that’s your delay pedal without being able to positively ID it by serial number or your OAN is NOT grounds for the police to seize it from the pawn shop, or other location.
All my equipment is inventoried on a master list with a very specific description and all identifiers recorded. What? You don’t have an inventory of your stuff? Better get with it dude! Otherwise good luck on trying remember every detail about your prized instrument. Most complainants that I have dealt with over the past 21 years of my career can’t remember squat. Word to the wise. The time to record all these things is NOW, before your stuff gets swiped. Play out at bars and clubs and it’s a matter of when your stuff will get ripped off not if. Unless of course, you’re very strict on observing my comrade’s advice above. Even then a theft can still happen.