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Orem police unlock rivalry

Stop opening up locked cars, locksmiths say

OREM — There is one type of phone call Eric Nevills would rather not get.

It is the call from a customer who has discovered Orem police officers will open a locked car for free and the locksmith's service is no longer needed.

Nevills, who owns Utah Valley Lock, doesn't know how much business he has lost to Orem's Department of Public Safety — but he and other area locksmiths think police officers should find a better way to spend their time.

"I think it's fine as long as they come out and unclog my toilet as well, or fix my roof," said Jay Jones, owner of Central Lock. "Why should I pay taxes for them to take away my livelihood?"

Orem police officers responded to 4,600 calls last year to assist motorists. The majority of those calls were to unlock a car door, Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards said.

Orem Locksmith, which gets more calls than most locksmiths in the valley, responded to about 3,600 calls last year.

Nevills unlocks less than 400 cars a year and charges between $25 and $40 for his service.

"I wish I had a list of all the customers that have called me because the police broke something trying to unlock the car," Nevills said. "That's not their job, and they don't know how to do it."

Patrol officers in Orem are equipped with a tool to unlock cars and are instructed to help motorists throughout the city.

There is no formal training, Edwards said. Most officers learn through experience.

Breaking a lock, or a window, is a rare occurrence, however. Edwards said last year police broke only one or two windows trying to open a car.

As a precautionary measure, motorists are required to sign a waiver before an officer tries to unlock a car. Officers ask motorists to call a locksmith when unlocking a car will require training or tools beyond an officer's capacity.

The department has been doing the service for more than 20 years, Edwards said. While not every Orem resident knows about it, Edwards said one woman has called the police four times to unlock her car.

That makes it tough for someone like Jess Scott, owner of Timp Keys, to make a living as a locksmith.

"Money is tight. We don't get many calls from Orem," he said.

Despite the complaints from area locksmiths, Edwards said the city's administration is not ready to give up the public service.

"It's an appreciated public service and usually doesn't take a great deal of time," he said.

Apparently, it is a public service that takes too much time for the Provo Police Department.

Provo Councilman Dennis Poulsen was so impressed when an Orem officer recently helped a friend unlock a car that he asked the Provo Police Department to offer the same service at Tuesday's council meeting.

Provo Police Capt. Dave Bolda said the department only has enough time to respond to emergency calls.

Mike Mower, a spokesman for Provo city, said police in his city don't unlock cars in non-emergency situations for two reasons: to preserve the livelihood of area locksmiths and to protect police officers from liability concerns when they damage a car they are trying to open.