Jim Fraser has been selling metal detectors for 20 years to prisons and airports. But within the past few months, he said, a market for such equipment has sprung up on college campuses, at courthouses and, more recently, in schools, nightclubs, restaurants and private companies.
There had been little demand for weapon-detection devices from businesses and educational institutions--until now. "The interest is up," said Fraser, who is vice president of Adamson Industries. The company, based in Costa Mesa, sells all types of equipment to law enforcement agencies.
He and other Orange County dealers in metal-detection equipment say that a rising number of incidents involving weapons on campuses as well as increased public concern about violent crime has fueled demand for hand-held detectors for security use.
School district officials and business owners alike say they are buying and using them.
Gary Folgner, owner of the Coach House concert club in San Juan Capistrano, recently bought detectors for a particular concert to ensure that no knives or guns would be brought inside.
"We used them for one show," Folgner said of the devices. "We heard there would be gang activity, so we thought we'd better be safe than sorry."
For Folgner and others, metal detectors are a welcome option.
"They've found their way to a lot of applications besides airports," said Larry Winkelman, owner of Allied Services in Orange, which sells metal detectors for security purposes and for hobbyists such as treasure hunters. "They're any place where you have a problem or potential problem."
In past years, Winkelman said, "we didn't see the violence and problems we have today. Society has changed, made the metal detector a way of life."
Winkelman, whose company rents hand-held detectors for $35 a day, said business has doubled in the past two years.
That increase is part of a national trend. A study by Hallcrest Systems Inc., a security management consulting and research firm in McLean, Va., projects that sales of metal-detection equipment nationwide will reach $39.5 million this year, up 10% from 1992. The study also estimates that by the year 2000, sales will total $84 million annually.
That revenue increase, though, has a disturbing aspect. James A. Normandi, a distributor for White's Electronics Inc. in Sweet Home, Ore., said that his company, which for years has sold metal detectors to hobbyists, has had a surge of inquiries recently from school districts across the nation.
"It certainly has taken an enormous leap in interest," said Normandi, who is based in San Rafael. "School districts (in California) want devices," he said.
Garrett Metal Detectors-Security Division in Garland, Tex., one of nation's leading manufacturers of such products, recently supplied the Los Angeles School District with an order of 250 hand-held models.
"More and more people are turning to metal detectors," said Jim Dobrei, Garrett's director of sales and marketing. "It almost seems epidemic among certain applications such as schools."
The company, which has been manufacturing metal-detection equipment for 30 years, also makes walk-through detectors that sell for prices starting at $2,500.
Cost is a major concern for buyers such as school districts. Costa Mesa dealer Fraser said that his bestseller is the Garrett Super Scanner, a hand-held unit that uses a replaceable battery and sells for about $150. The device also is available for about $230 with a rechargeable nine-volt battery.
Fraser said he recently sold detectors to the Buena Park School District, the first in Orange County that plans to use them. "It's not the business we want," Fraser said. "But we're to here provide a viable alternative to get these weapons off campus. It's kind of painful to have that kind of equipment in schools."
Adamson Industries has doubled its business in security detectors in the past three years, Fraser said. A hand-held metal detector, he said, is the most non-intrusive way to check a person for weapons.
"You don't have to touch the body," he said. "It's about as benign as it can be without searching somebody."
Other local merchants say that they see sales going nowhere but up.
Judy Shaw, owner and operator California Prospecting Co. in Buena Park, deals mainly in metal detectors for treasure hunters but is seeing a rise in sales for security use.
"It's a market I expect to get a lot better--fast," Shaw said. "I think it's pretty sad that we have to go to metal detectors to keep our schools and workplaces safe. But they're very effective in doing just that."
Sales of hand-held scanners will continue to rise, said Alan Holcombe, marketing manager at White's Electronics. His company has just come out with a hand-held model called Auto-Scan, and sales have been overwhelming.
"They've gone way over projections," Holcombe said, though he would not give specific figures.
He said he expects the sales growth to continue. "Do you know anyone (who) thinks that tomorrow's society will be any less violent than today's?" he asked. "We expect this business to double within 36 months."
Dobrei of Garrett said that he foresees detectors finding a market at sporting events and rock concerts, in hospital waiting rooms, public and government buildings, even churches.
"Unfortunately," he said, "business will be good."