Feature Article - September 2004
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Safe and Secure

Health clubs and recreation facilities are excellent hunting grounds for thieves

By Kyle Ryan

Talk about bad press. In a June 2003 issue of the Morton Grove (Ill.) Champion, the city's police chief, George Incledon, blamed a 35-percent jump in thefts in 2002 partly on the local Bally Total Fitness.

Overall, crime in the northern Chicago suburb increased by 2 percent from 2001 to 2002, but thefts themselves had increased dramatically. According to the police department, the Bally had 30 thefts in 2001—and 95 in 2002. Not only did Chief Incledon blame Bally, he said the company seemed "not that concerned" to do anything about the thefts.

Not surprisingly, Bally quickly made some changes to show they were very concerned about them. Within a few months, the company increased security patrols, installed a new entry system and surveillance cameras. The result, according to both Bally and the police, was a drop in thefts.

Regardless, it's not a good idea to wait until your city's chief of police publicly associates your facility with a crime wave to improve security. Ideally, such concerns should be taken into consideration when the building is designed, not built.

What, exactly, should be considered depends on the facility. A private health club such as Morton Grove's Bally will have different needs than a municipal recreation center, such as the one operated by Gina Barton, the recreation director for the City Park Recreation and Fitness Center in Westminster, Colo.

The center actually has two facilities: a 64,000-square-foot multiuse building that's 18 years old and a 5-year-old, 38,000-square-foot adult fitness and wellness center. As a public facility, it's open to just about anyone.

"We have a little more of a challenge because we're open to anybody," Barton says. "We have drop-in admissions, and we don't require everybody to show who they are. Sometimes there's a loss of accountability."

But Barton knows how to deal with that. She, along with Craig Bouck, the principal at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, gave a seminar at a recent industry conference on security issues. The key, she says, is to start with the problem areas or "hotspots"—and there are plenty of them.