Police on Thursday said they have "strong, solid leads" on who is responsible for the tour van break-ins that have plagued traveling musicians and local concert venues for months. Thieves have robbed at least three vans in the past two weeks.
Representatives from at least eight venues met with an officer from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and an assistant to Mayor Francis Slay to discuss ways to combat the wave of break-ins. Among the ideas pitched were using bait vans or electronics that police could track once stolen. They also talked about improving communication between venues to notify each other of suspicious vehicles and explaining to bands and booking agents the steps venues are taking to keep them and their stuff safe.
The consensus among venue owners and police alike is that a team of highly organized thieves is behind most of the break-ins, which have targeted vans with out-of-state license plates.
"They are quick," says Dan Schulte, a community outreach officer for the SLMPD's fourth district, which covers the downtown and midtown areas where the thefts have happened most frequently. "They will punch that lock and get in and out in less than 30 seconds. They'll steal thousands of dollars of stuff in less than a minute."
The alleged group may not be after musical instruments, though. "They're looking for laptops, GPSs and phones. They're not looking for guitars and amps," says Erica Durbin, promotions coordinator and talent buyer at the Old Rock House.
Those items can be more difficult to track down because victims don't often know the serial numbers for their stolen electronics, Schulte says. He said one reason touring bands may be getting targeted is that they are unlikely to return to St. Louis to testify against the thieves once they're caught.
The burglaries have often occurred between the times when musicians have loaded their gear in and out of the venues. But vans have also been robbed after having been driven to a bar away from the concert venue, the night before a performance while band members were asleep in a hotel, and most recently, while the hip-hop artist Spose was eating lunch at Pappy's Smokehouse on October 20, the day after he performed at the Firebird.
Mike Cracchiolo, owner of the Firebird, the Ready Room and the Demo, says that he has largely fixed the problem in his parking lots by staffing an additional worker each show to watch the vans. "But the problem is that if we eliminate this problem on our lot, they go somewhere else; they get hit the next day. So, these guys are still finding ways around what we're able to control."
Cracchiolo says that news of the thefts is already getting around in musician circles. "I've talked to booking agents who've said, 'I just got told by a band, 'Don't book me in St. Louis.' That's going to put people out of business."
Schulte said he would relay the ideas discussed in the meeting to police leadership.
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