Thieves have rifled about a dozen lockers at the Sports Connection gym in West Hollywood during the last few months, taking wallets, car keys and other valuables despite the presence of potential witnesses at the time of the crime.
"These thefts are being carried out by a group of members who watch out for each other when they're operating. They're not deterred by the presence of people around them," according to a notice posted by management in the men's locker room at the sports club.
The notice urged members not to bring valuables into the busy gym on Santa Monica Boulevard and to protect their belongings with sturdy padlocks.
The club also stationed a security guard in the men's locker room and offered a reward of $500 and one year's free membership for information leading to an arrest.
"We do seem to have an unusual run of thefts down there," said Sheriff's Sgt. Finn Petersen. "They're clipping the locks off. It's almost impossible to see in a place like that how somebody could take the time to do it."
Nonetheless, there have been at least a dozen cases, he said Thursday. In one case, the thief or thieves knew the victim well enough to recognize his car and burglarize it with the help of keys taken from his locker, Petersen said.
"That leads us to believe it's somebody who has a very good knowledge of the clientele," he said.
Petersen suggested that the thief or thieves may hide heavy-duty clippers in a sports bag or locker and bring it out to snip the locks off when the dressing room is deserted.
"It's all speculation at this point," he said.
Joel Aschendorf, general manager of the Sports Connection, said that locker thefts are endemic in health clubs but that the recent wave prompted management to take stronger precautions.
"It comes in spurts but this is the first time we've actually addressed it as a serious enough concern to make real positive changes," he said.
While there have been no arrests, he said that employees had warned off a few suspects who have not been seen at the club since. The last theft was reported about two weeks ago, he said.
At the Athletic Club, a neighboring gym on Santa Monica Boulevard, there is also an occasional break-in, receptionist Christopher Muldowney said. He said staff members walk through the locker room about every 15 minutes in an effort to discourage thefts.