In the midst of an apparent crime wave in Bakersfield involving the theft of musical equipment, several local musicians and their supporters went to the streets yesterday afternoon to call for more police support and changes to pawn shop policies, some of whom, they claimed, may be selling stolen property.
Local harmonica player Steve James was the focus of the support when word reached the music community that he was required to pay $50 to have his stolen harmonicas and their storage case returned to him from M.A. Griffin & Sons pawnshop on 19th Street in downtown Bakersfield.
James' harmonicas were stolen in September of last year from his car near the Belvedere Cocktail Lounge on Brundage Lane. He had left his harmonicas in his car while briefly entering the establishment, only to return a few minutes later to find that thieves had stolen them. He had spent a lifetime collecting the "harps" and their case had a near priceless value to him.
The theft was just one of several that have happened over the last few years. For example, a local jazz musician had all of his saxophones, worth several thousands of dollars, stolen from his car, and others have had guitars, basses, and sound equipment stolen as well. One guitarist even had a guitar stolen from the stage at a local venue while he was on a break.
As for James, several months went by until another musician, bass player Bill Anderson, spotted the harps and their case at the Griffin pawnshop. He alerted James, who contacted the store and then the Bakersfield police in an effort to get his belongings back. After several more weeks, the police agreed that he had submitted enough proof of ownership, ordered the pawnshop to remove the items from its store shelves, and informed James that he could get everything back.
However, when he went to retrieve his equipment, the store attendant refused to hand them over unless James paid them $50. He reluctantly agreed, just to get his possessions back. This didn't sit well with the local music community, who set Facebook ablaze with their calls to help Steve get his money back.
A crowd of almost two dozen people milled about in the chilly, late afternoon air across the street from the pawnshop, discussing what needed to be done to help Steve, as well as others who have had similar experiences. A few of the group, including local music promoter KayKay Jagger, went into the store to discuss Steve's situation with the store manager.
After several minutes of discussion, Jagger reported that the manager said he would discuss the situation with the store owner, implying that they may be able to return James' $50, although there was no certain promise given. The pawnshop, whose website asserts that it has "treated our customers with the respect and dignity we would like to be treated with...," claimed via its manager that from the moment they had received the property, they followed all legal requirements once they received the case of harmonicas, according to Jagger.
Afterward during an interview with a local television news reporter, Jagger and others stressed that the music community is very upset with the apparent lack of attention being given to music thefts across the city. They hope to meet with the necessary authorities to discuss what is being done and what more can be done to prevent thefts in the future, as well as to identify and arrest those responsible. Additionally, they hope that the pawn shops develop better, more responsible, and more customer friendly policies toward returning stolen goods to their rightful owners.