A guy enters a gym dressed in workout wear, so no one notices him slip into the locker room, where he proceeds to fill his backpack with wallets. It doesn’t matter if there’s a lock — he can pop one of those things in seconds. After finding a set of keys, he heads out to the parking lot, where he presses a button to make the owner’s car flash its lights and beep. Then he lets himself in and drives away.
“What’s unbelievable is that people think their property is safe there,” says Detective Sonya Richardson of the Falls Church Police Department, who’s been investigating a growing number of gym thefts. She gets bulletins at least once a week from neighboring jurisdictions about the crime, which is attractive to burglars looking for easy prey. Locker rooms are smorgasbords of unattended jewelry, electronics, credit cards and cash, but they don’t have security cameras and often are designed to allow for privacy.
Across the D.C. area, police departments, gym owners and members have figured that out the hard way. “It doesn’t seem like it’s any one gym; it’s county rec facilities to large gym chains,” says Kraig Troxell, public information officer for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. The office has noticed such an uptick in the crime that it sent out gym theft prevention tips in its March 2011 Neighborhood Watch Newsletter.
The first piece of advice is always to leave your stuff at home, but that’s not feasible for people squeezing in that body-sculpting class after work. So they haul it with them to the locker room, where an astounding number of people don’t use locks at all, according to Rebecca Innocenti, a Montgomery County police officer, who’s also responded to her fair share of calls at gyms. “People tend to believe they don’t need to secure items because they’re in a community of members,” she says.
For the most part, Innocenti explains, gym thefts aren’t just cases of sticky fingers. “These are people whose sole intent is to gain access to your property. It’s their job. It’s methodical. They’re very organized individuals or groups,” she says.
That’s why even a lock won’t necessarily be enough protection, adds Richardson, who says a quick peek on Google will teach anyone how to crack them open. “Think like a bad guy. You have to make it harder for them,” she says. Richardson keeps her keys on her body or in her line of vision when she’s at the gym. One idea: Leave your water bottle on the ground and use that treadmill drink holder for your stuff.
It also pays to know your gym’s crime-prevention policies. “You want to know your facility, know the staff, know that they’re committed to keeping valuables safe,” says Capt. David Taylor of the D.C. police department. And if you do find that something’s missing, even if it’s just a few bucks or an old watch you don’t care about, you should always report it, both to your gym and the police. “If a facility has had 100 thefts but only one is reported, we don’t know there’s a pattern,” Taylor says.
Several recent thefts at the Washington Sports Clubs (WSC) location in Columbia Heights have stirred up talk about the issue on the blog Prince of Petworth, where commenters have largely blamed the chain for not doing enough to protect members.
Martin Annese, chief operating officer for WSC’s parent company, Town Sports International, admits that crime happens. “We’d like it to be less,” he says. But from the company’s perspective, there’s just so much it can do beyond posting signs reminding members to be careful with their stuff, instructing staff to keep an eye on anyone lingering in locker rooms and offering smaller, key-operated valuables lockers in high-traffic parts of the club.
Probably the most effective crime deterrent, Annese says, is just knowing who’s there. Members must scan their cards to enter, and any guests they bring need to leave photo ID and have their picture taken. The technology allows the clubs to flag suspicious behavior. “As much as we like people working out a lot, if they’ve checked into more than one club in a day, we’re on the lookout,” he says.
Over at the Sports Club/LA in the West End, general manager Trish Berry says there’s not a problem with theft. The gym has some of the most cautious locker room procedures in town. When members enter, they’re greeted by an attendant, who exchanges their cards for keys to specific lockers. “It’s more purposeful. You’re not wandering around,” Berry says. There’s always at least one other staffer patrolling the room, which means you’re never entirely alone. (Anyone who’s still worried can pay extra to use the executive locker room, which requires key-code access.)
For the exact opposite of that, walk into almost any yoga studio. Instead of lockers, there are open cubbies, whose security depends on the honor system. If you’re wondering how that could work, well, it doesn’t. Over the past three years, studios across the area have been repeatedly hit by thieves who’ve taken advantage of the trusting atmosphere, says Kim Weeks, who owns Boundless Yoga on U Street NW.
The only positive part of the burglaries, she says, is that they’ve caused studios to band together. When one is targeted, it gets the word out about how the thieves pulled it off, because they tend to use the same tricks at several places. One early M.O. at Boundless and other studios, Weeks says, was to have one or two people distract the front-desk clerk with questions while a partner cleared out the cubbies. More recently, people have paid for drop-in classes, slipped out to “use the bathroom” and left with the loot.
So signs tell yogis to keep an eye on their valuables while they practice. “From an idealistic point of view, it’s a bummer,” Weeks says. “But we have to approach life realistically.” That’s why when Boundless moved to a new location in April , she made sure the cubbies were inside the studio with the students.
But she’s still sticking with her mantra: “Keep your wallet with you.” That’s one worth repeating.
- Take in only what you absolutely need.
- Leave your wallet and cellphone in your car, secured in the trunk.
- Choose lockers near the end of the row, because they can be seen by more people and are less likely to be tampered with.
- If you use your own lock to secure your property, don’t make it a cheap one (i.e., don’t use a $5 lock for a $300 phone).
- If your property is stolen, report it so the police can compare the information to other incidents.
SOURCE: Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office
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If you pocket your valuables, burglars can’t. Here are a few products that can help you protect your stuff when you’re working out.
Saucony’s Ignite gym top, far left, includes a zipper pocket for valuables. The Spi Belt allows gym-goers to keep stuff strapped around their hips. A phone fits in Sprigs’ Banjee wrist wallet. The Nathan QuickDraw bottle cover can be strapped to the hand and has space for valuables.