Think that security camera at the gym will help catch a crook? Think again

May 2, 2022, 11:10 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Going to the gym brings a certain level of trust: you leave valuables secured in a locker while you work out, trusting they’ll be there when you’re done.

For Jessica Aguilar, the trust was broken when her lock got busted one evening in March at the VASA Fitness in Taylorsville.

“We were done with our workout, we grab our stuff, and my mom was like, ‘The lock is broken.’ It was broken open,” Aguilar said. “They took the keys, they stole my wallet… they took everything.”

Aguilar and her mother went to the parking lot to find the thief had also stolen her new Audi.

“We were like freaking out,” recalled Aguilar. “The car was stolen, and I just like, started breaking down.”

Aguilar asked if VASA would show her footage from the security cameras so she might identify who took her belongings. She was told no.

“They’re like, yeah, we can’t show you guys any footage,” she explained. “We can’t show you anything.”

As Aguilar discovered, those cameras may offer little more than a false sense of security.

“I think a lot of people feel that the surveillance video’s the gotcha,” said Deputy Chief Brett Miller with Taylorsville Police. “It’s not.”

Miller said, in reality, the angles aren’t always great, and video quality is often mediocre.

If the crime itself is not captured on camera, police said sifting for crooks through surveillance is a lot of guesswork.

And considering cameras are absolutely prohibited in gym locker rooms due to privacy concerns, no surveillance camera will catch a thief breaking into a locker.

Not a Unique Experience

Aguilar is not alone in being a crime victim while at the gym.

KSL Investigators reached out to 52 law enforcement jurisdictions across the state and requested all calls for service at 213 gyms between January 1, 2018, through March 16, 2022.

We narrowed that down to property crimes, including theft, both in the building and outside, stolen vehicles, damaged property, and larceny.

Statewide, that resulted in 2,961 separate calls.

These specific locations had the most calls for service related to property crimes:

  •  VASA Fitness, 5518 S. Van Winkle in Murray, 147 calls
  •  Provo Rec Center, 320 W. 500 North in Provo, 131 calls
  •  VASA Fitness, 7836 S. Redwood in West Jordan, 119 calls
  •  West Valley Family Fitness Center, 5415 W. 3100 South in West Valley, 111 calls
  •  VASA Fitness, 7990 S. 1300 East in Sandy, 110 calls
  •  VASA Fitness, 1259 S. 800 East in Orem, 104 calls
  •  Life Time Fitness, 10996 S. River Front Pkwy. in South Jordan, 94 calls
  •  VASA Fitness, 3491 W. 3500 South in West Valley, 86 calls
  •  VASA Fitness, 3420 S. 5600 West in West Valley, 85 calls
  •  Planet Fitness, 635 E. 3300 South in South Salt Lake, 84 calls

Six VASA gym locations appeared on that top ten list. In fact, when broken down by company, VASA Fitness accounted for 45% of all calls for service statewide during the four-year time period we reviewed.

Keep in mind, VASA operates 25 gyms with a total of 193,000 members statewide. In an email, a spokesperson for the company said, “Large gyms and retailers with large parking lots are targets for property crime,” but that “property crimes are not higher at VASA than other gyms” and “VASA has not experienced an increase in property crime over time.”

When we examined average calls for each gym company or operator, averaged by their total locations in that four-year period, VASA averaged 53 calls for service on property crimes per location, below several other companies.

In fact, six of the top ten gyms with average property crime calls by total locations were government-run recreation centers:

  • Provo Rec Center — one location — 131 calls
  • West Valley Family Fitness Center — one location — 111 calls
  • Life Time Fitness — one location — 94 calls
  • VASA Fitness — 25 locations — 53.24 calls
  • Lehi Legacy Center — one location — 46 calls
  • Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center — one location — 41 calls
  • Cottonwood Heights Rec Center — one location — 38 calls
  • The Sports Mall — one location — 37 calls
  • Marshall White Center — one location — 35 calls
  • Treehouse Athletic Club — one location — 30 calls

By email, Provo Rec Center’s spokesman told KSL incidents at their gym are “rare,” considering “we have 23,000-25,000 members and 1.5 million-plus individual visits annually. That puts us at a 0.00002015% reported theft crime per visit rate over the four year and three month time frame.”

“I think every gym, probably in the valley, in the state, has probably experienced this before,” said Miller.

Over time, our analysis found calls to police for property crimes at all 213 gyms statewide peaked in 2019 (786 total calls), dropped by 40% in 2020 (420 total calls), and then returned to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021 (756 total calls).

Something the hardest hit gyms all have in common: big parking lots.

“Not just with gyms, but any busy parking lot, in general, tend to be targets for people involved in vehicle burglaries,” explained Miller. “The thing with gyms is a lot of times people leave valuables out in their car, so crime of opportunity.”

A False Sense of Security

So back to those security cameras which seem to be just about everywhere nowadays.

Even if the crime is caught on camera, attorney Nancy Mismash with Lawrence, Lundahl and Lofgren told us businesses are not legally obligated to turn over that video to anyone who asks.

Jessica's car was stolen from VASA in Taylorsville. (KSL TV) Gyms can be targets for thieves. (KSL TV)

“There could be reasons that people are requesting video for not-so-good intentions,” Mismash said. “Maybe they’re trying to check up on a spouse or partner. Maybe they’re trying to get video where there’s really no crime.”

She said it’s safer to assume cameras are in place to protect the business, not patrons.

“I think they’re hoping to deter theft, but cameras only capture so much, and if people are aware of where the cameras are, they can block some of that with their bodies,” said Mismash. “I just don’t know that I would rely on surveillance video if I had something valuable that I wanted to protect.”

VASA’s spokesperson told us “due to member privacy, VASA does not allow security footage to be shown to members or to be turned over to members. If law enforcement is on-site, we share footage with them directly. We require law enforcement to submit a subpoena before we send them video footage, however.”

It’s a policy we found echoed by Life Time Fitness, another private gym. In a statement, their spokesperson said “to protect the privacy of all members, subpoena required or police request” for their security footage.

Getting a warrant for that footage can be time-consuming, Miller explained.

Between typing up the search warrant, delivering it to a prosecutor, then to a judge for sign-off, it can take 24 hours to obtain.

“A detective’s not going to take the time to write that search warrant and then serve it on [the gym’s] corporate, and then wait for corporate to provide a video that may or may not have evidence on it,” Miller said.

“I don’t feel safe there anymore”

Aguilar did finally get her car back, without the help of security footage, thanks to a lot of effort from the Taylorsville Police Department.

“They probably did two hours of surveillance following it around, got help from a canine unit and the [Department of Public Safety] helicopter,” said Miller.

Eventually, Salt Lake City Police zeroed in and stopped the car.

“They actually deployed the tire deflation device, the spikes. The guy stopped after running over the spikes and didn’t realize it was the police and started to flee,” Miller explained.

Police body camera footage shows officers finding the car, all doors open, tires shredded and inside trashed. The suspect got away.

VASA’s spokesperson did not offer any further details on Aguilar’s case, but said, “we are very sorry Ms. Aguilar was the victim of property theft.”

Ultimately, Aguilar decided to work out elsewhere.

“I canceled my membership,” she said. “I just, I don’t know. I don’t feel safe there anymore.”

When KSL Investigators spoke with Taylorsville Police, a detective put us in contact with a longtime thief who targeted gyms.

This person agreed to speak with us by phone, so long as he was not identified. He shared with us that thieves target gyms because there’s an assumption if you have a gym membership, you have some disposable income to spend.

His advice was to leave everything of value at home. Thieves can and will bust locks off lockers if they think something valuable is inside.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Think that security camera at the gym will help catch a crook? Think again