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|| News Item: Posted 2000-01-24

Stealing Home
By Robert Hanashiro

We've all done it. We've all made the same excuses why we've done it. But leaving our equipment on the sidelines or courtside or under the stands open, available and certainly inviting is more dangerous than ever.

A recent rash of equipment thefts at sports events highlights that the days of trust and faith that the extra camera body or the 600 you're not using will be there when you come back ARE OVER!

Allsports' Jed Jacobsohn was victimized at the recent Raiders - Seahawks game. A new EOS1n was taken out of a roller case he had stored in one of the baseball dugouts.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro

Photo by Robert Hanashiro
"There is a certain amount of trust that we all rely on as sports photographers amongst one another,' Jacobsohn says, "The nature of our business is gear and lots of it.

"When gear is stolen at an event that we assume is safe, everyone suffers. Not only does it effect the pictures that you will make, but it also sets a bad tone of mistrust between photographers. Granted, the Raiders sidelines are by far the worst in the country, when half the people down there are not working professionals."

One of the stranger incidents involved the arrest of a photographer at a Redskins game last October. "Apparently two credentialed photographers were arrested today on the field during the 1st quarter of the Redskins/Bears game in Landover, MD," a photographer wrote recently, "I have been told that they were in possession of at least one and probably two stolen lenses (Canon 400 2.8 lenses).

"These guys apparently have been covering sporting events such as Redskins games both home and away. One of the lenses was stolen from a Redskins game at Giants Stadium. The other was stolen from a Redskins game in Tempe, AZ."

"The Redskins or NFL Security set them up," a Washington DC-based photographer told Sports Shooter after the incident, "One was arrested (at the game) with a charge of stolen property. I believe the other was arrested the next day. They are claiming they bought the lens on the street in Philadelphia."

Equipment theft isn't just happening out of the sidelines, but also in the stadium workrooms and wire service digital work areas.

A DCS520 digital camera disappeared from the Newark Star Ledger's worktable in the photographers editing area after Game 4 of the World Series last October at Yankee Stadium. And two PowerBooks walked out of the AP member work area at the Orange Bowl in Pro Player Stadium earlier this month.

"It was taken after I took off my personal lens and put it into the pile for our techs to pack up inside the photo workroom," Chris Faytok of the Star Ledger said, "We (4 shooters and 2 techs) were probably all right there when someone lifted it."

Faytok added that the New York Daily News lost a 300mm 2.8 out of the first base photo position and a shooter from the Bergen Record reported a 1.4 extender missing from the same game.

At the recent Orange Bowl game played at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Mark Miller of the Montgomery Advertiser reports that the Huntsville Times and the Anniston Star both had laptops taken sometime between kickoff and the second quarter.

" All the member papers were digital and AP had more film runners than they needed," Miller said, "We all thought that one (runner) was going to stay in the work area for the duration of the game.

"I noticed the computers missing when I came in during the second quarter but wasn't sure of the theft until the two shooters came in at the half and were stunned at the empty spaces where they had setup."

The digital work area for the Orange Bowl was in an " alcove type opening with tables just off of the tunnel" and was only partitioned with a low barrier.

But taking precautions at the stadium is only part of the job. The Contra Costa Times had a case come up missing when photographers returned from the Bay Area after covering the 49er-Cardinals game in Phoenix. The case contained a DCS520, PC cards and a G3 PowerBook.

"This $13,000 lesson led to our new policy on traveling with company equipment," says Alan Greth the Times' executive picture editor tells Sports Shooter. "All staffers are now required to carry all company gear on the plane. We modeled this after the USA TODAY policy that requires staffers to board the plane with everything they need to do their job when they land."

The ironic part about the theft of the C.C. Times' gear is that United Airlines "pushed the shooter" to check the Cabbage Case that contained the equipment.

While unscrupulous photographers and stadium workers are the most obvious people to point the finger at, sometimes it's the fans. And fans sitting in expensive seats.

A few years ago a Sports Illustrated photographer had two Lightware cases containing Hassleblad gear taken from a courtside photo position at the Arco Arena in Sacramento. When arena security and team officials failed to take action, the photographer took matters into his own hands and hired a private investigator to look into the theft.

Using a seating chart and photos taken downcourt, he tracked down the thief who turned out to be sitting in a corporation's season seats. The private detective confronted the man and he still had the two cases with the gear in his garage.

Last spring an Allsport photographer had an NPS loaner 400 2.8 lifted from under the stands while she was shooting a Los Angeles Kings game at the Great Western Forum. However arena security spotted the man on the scoreboard video screen celebrating catching a puck that went into the stands.

The officers looking at the video screen noticed the monopod sticking up out of the 400mm. By the time they got to the seats, the man was gone. However, he was arrested at the very next game when he sowed up to sit in the same seats.

The lens was later recovered from Samy's Camera where the thief had sold it at the used equipment counter (even though the lens was clearly marked NPS and was wrapped in Nikon's telltale orange gafer tape).

So what can we do?

The obvious remedy is to use common sense.

Don't openly leave gear out in unsecured areas (like photo positions, empty dugouts and along the stands at football and soccer games). If you do have to leave gear that's not needed at the moment, lock it down.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro

Photo by Robert Hanashiro
There are several chain and lock combo available at hardware and sporting goods stores. I use a lock with a retractable steel cord that's meant to secure ski boots. And there are several security devices sold to lock down laptops.

For camera bags and other cases (like VersaFlex and Lightware) that would be harder to chain down, there are large steel mesh bags that they can be dropped into and then locked up.

Often it only takes a visual deterrent to prevent a piece of equipment from "walking."

Another thing to think about is what do you REALLY need to shoot that game and leave the rest home.

If you do have to cover that football game with a 400mm AND a 600mm, you might consider getting the Kinesis Long Lens case that has a backpack harness. You can shoot with one long lens while carrying the other on your back. It's cumbersome, but it's better than trying to explain to your DOP that you had a $6,000 lens stolen.

A rumor came to Sports Shooter recently about a new policy at a metro newspaper that recently had a piece of long glass stolen at a game. The rumored policy is: if a photographer is found to have been careless when company gear comes up missing, they have a month to pay for it out of their own pocket or face termination. (Repeated calls and emails to this paper went unanswered, so this policy is unconfirmed.)

This policy is HARSH, but certainly something I envision a lot of newspapers considering since now days we go out with digital cameras worth $4,000 - $8,000 and lenses worth more than that.

What all of this means is we have to change our attitudes and maybe the way we do our jobs.

"For me, this incident has changed the way I shoot football for now," Allsports' Jacobsohn says, "As we all know, we don't use all of our gear all the time at an event. There are times when you will use a wide angle or a strobe before the game and then have to stow the gear during the game. When something like this happens, I am hesitant to bring any gear that I don't need for game action."

"As always, you rely on the experience of the locals when you travel to different sites," says Miller, "Since we had about 12 laptops and gear there (in the AP work area) I guess we hoped that it would be taken care of and maybe relied too heavily on good luck."
"Crooks are everywhere. Just because we are 'with the media' and have good parking spaces at sporting events, does not make us immune from being afflicted by scum bags," summed up Greth.

(Robert Hanashiro has been USA TODAY's Los Angeles-based staff photographer since 1989.)

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