4 tips to stop the steal of your gear
We’ve all heard horrible traumatic tales of stolen equipment but how many folks have ever thought it would actually happen to them? After countless hours of researching camera equipment, saving for weeks and months and then waiting patiently for your package to arrive from Amazon, you finally receive the fruits of your efforts. It’s gonna make me millions! I’m a PRO now!
You can’t wait to get out and shoot, counting the minutes until you can steal away from your partner, family or job. “I’m doing it, I have the time, I have the equipment, I have the perfect setting - it’s REALLY going to happen”. And then your worst fear, your gear is gone in a flash. How can this be? What did I do wrong???
After 24 years in law enforcement I’ve seen this happen so many times I’ve lost count. So many broken hearts and dashed dreams - most of which could have been prevented. As a part time photographer I’ve been one of those who has invested thousands in my gear. I can speak from experience and if my equipment is not in my physical control I get the heebie-jeebies, as should you.
1. Trust no one
This is really hard to hear. And no, I’m not a jaded cop, but over years of experience I’ve lost a little faith in the human race. The truth is, there are lots of humans in the world who just don’t have your best interest at heart. They don’t care that you spent thousands, they don’t care that the window on your car is shattered, they don’t care you’ve worked hard and spent countless hours researching equipment. They only care about themselves. When it comes right down to it, trust no one and DON’T assume everyone has the same moral compass you do.
2. If it is visible, it’s available
Cops get reports all the time that someone’s high end, expensive widget was on the back seat or floorboard of the car. Car windows are designed to be transparent. It’s a pain in the arse to move stuff to the trunk, or take it home before you go shopping at the next store. NEVER leave anything more valuable than a used Kleenex in your ride. As a law enforcement officer I’ve seen $200 windows broken for a quarter, literally 25 cents. As a photographer you may never have personally experienced extreme poverty or addiction. Those that have, may be desperate and unfortunately may do anything to change their situation. Don’t be an enabler. Hide your stuff. Even the smallest items can be seen as valuable. Don’t leave an empty cardboard box! Don’t leave a plastic bag with trash in it! Don’t leave a coat wadded up on the floorboard! The perpetrator should see seats, carpet and a steering wheel - and that’s it.
3. Never tell yourself “I’ll be gone just a second”
We’ve all done it. “Oh, I’ll just be a sec honey”. That is ALL IT TAKES. I’ve watched countless surveillance videos of purses being stolen from a shopping cart in the blink of an eye. The thieves are gone in a New York second! There’s no locking down a perimeter to search for the a bad guy calmly walking through the chicken aisle deciding what nuggets they want for dinner. They're history. So whats a person to do? Don’t take shortcuts. This happens often when someone is too lazy to pack up their gear, sling it over their shoulder and step away for a minute to grab a Snickers. Take your stuff with you. If it is not in your physical control consider it gone. As photographers we respect each other’s gear. In the real world opportunity can be a huge motivator for thieves. Don’t let a split second of forgetfulness result in an exasperating conversation with your insurance agent. Oh, you all DO have insurance right?
4. Know your surroundings
Have you ever stopped in a public place, sat down and watched people? Humans can be extremely interesting and often very predictable. If you become aware of someone’s presence and suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, then you’ve just utilized one of the primal warning indicators that humans have. Act on it. Every time. Gavin De Becker says it best in his book The Gift of Fear
“What many others want to dismiss as coincidence or a gut feeling is in fact a cognitive process, faster than we recognize and far different from the step-by-step thinking we rely on so willingly. We think conscious thought is somehow better, when in fact, intuition is soaring flight compared to the plodding of logic. Nature’s greatest accomplishment, the human brain, is never more efficient or invested than when its host is at risk. Then, intuition is catapulted to a different level. It is knowing without knowing why.”
An instinctual feeling tells you “Something is wrong, be careful”. Don’t think “I’m being silly”. You’re being smart and using that primal sense, the sixth sense, that says fight or flight. Look around, watch people, and watch who is watching you. Know where the nearest exit is, and identify places with a lot of people nearby. If it’s scary, ask yourself “Why the hell am I here”?
BONUS - Don’t be gullible
This is a bonus tip from Uncle Bob the cop. If it’s too good to be true it might not be. This is particularly important to anyone who buys and sells on Facebook Marketplace / Craigs List etc etc. NEVER give anyone any information online as in social security numbers, credit card numbers, address, phone number, your favorite color or restaurant - just don’t do it. If you do buy from an online source verify information numerous times. When you do make a purchase on social media, plan on meeting in a safe place for the transfer. Many local police departments offer an Exchange Zone in the police department parking lot, monitored by cameras. Take a friend. Carry ONLY the specific amount of cash needed for the transfer. Better yet, use Venmo or PayPal as soon as you decide to buy and that way no cash has to exchange hands.
For all my photographer friends - I’d prefer meeting while I’m not in uniform and you’re not in tears after being ripped off. I’d prefer to visit over a cold beverage while I admire your recent photos and equipment.
Bob Younger is a current law enforcement officer in Northern Colorado and a part time/full time photographer at Bob Younger Images.