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Steal This Bus: Van Robberies Perplex Musicians 

Wednesday, Jun 10 2015
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If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to write down your guitar's serial number. A recent spike in auto burglaries has left more than a few touring bands in the lurch.

According to the San Francisco Police Department, 5,456 auto burglaries occurred in the city during the four-month period from January to April 2014. During that same period this year, the number jumped to 7,552, representing a 38 percent increase.

The most recent case involving a touring band: The Warlocks, the Los Angeles band whose van was broken into by thieves after the group played the Brick and Mortar Music Hall in the Mission District. The break-in happened on June 3, just 20 minutes after the group's manager had parked on Hyde Street near Lombard Street, where the band was staying with friends. A trolley operator had caught the criminals in the act, scaring them off and protecting the rest of the gear until the band members arrived.

"They took three guitars, all our pedal boards, suitcases," said bassist Chris DiPino, who had heard of a recent rise in band break-ins and burglaries in San Francisco. "I feel like these people just vulture around the venues and then follow you to where you're going and just steal everything, man."

Police told The Warlocks to stay at the scene and wait for a squad car. Two hours later, no cop had shown up, so the band headed to the police station to file a report.

"It's a crime of opportunity," SFPD Officer Carlos Manfredi said. "These people watch you when you have no idea — that's all they do, they wait and they watch — and they see you loading gear. It only takes a few seconds" to steal it.

A few weeks before The Warlocks' case, a similar robbery happened to the band Fat White Family, from England, and the Southern California band L.A. Drugz. Justin Maurer, the Drugz's 31-year-old lead singer and guitarist, said that he also felt as though he'd been followed from the Chapel, the venue where the band had played on May 18, to his van's parking spot at the Travelodge on Market and Valencia streets. The Drugz lost about $30,000 worth of gear, including a gift guitar from Sean Lennon that Maurer said could have belonged to John Lennon.

"Considering the laptop and musical equipment alone," Maurer said, "you could rob a bank and not get that much money out of the bank tellers' front drawers."

Maurer and crew waited nine hours for police to arrive at the scene. The hotel refused to show the parking lot's security footage to anyone besides the police, who, according to Maurer, seemed uninterested and too busy with homicides and other more serious crimes.

Back home in L.A., Maurer called the SFPD after an investigator failed to call him back within a week, as he'd promised. When Maurer read off the case number, police couldn't find a correlating case. Maurer was forced to file a new report.

Office Manfredi said completed reports of vehicle burglaries (where the suspect isn't still at the scene) fall under "Class C" priority for squad cars, which explains the long waits. But for bands with prized instruments, that's little consolation.

"They hit the jackpot," Maurer said, laughing defeatedly. "We'd have better luck finding it ourselves."

About The Author

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome

Matt Saincome is SF Weekly's former music editor.


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