Thieves target lockers at local Ys

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Subtle warning: This sign at the Guilderland Y check-in counter tells members to ask staff about Master combination locks. There have been a number of larcenies in local Y locker rooms since January, and, in some, thieves have picked open the combination locks on lockers. In others, gym users have left items unlocked in lockers.

GUILDERLAND — Several branches of the Capital District YMCA, including the Guilderland Y, have had lockers broken into. The thieves are not limiting themselves to taking valuables from unlocked lockers, but have a found a way to open Master combination locks without breaking them, according to spokespeople for both the Bethlehem Police and the Capital District YMCA.

“In some of the cases, they’re finding a way to tamper with and open the locks,” said Bethlehem Police spokesman Commander Adam Hornick.

The Y sent out an alert in early April to all of its members about the break-ins, said Erin Breslin, director of marketing and membership for the Capital District YMCA.

The Ys where locker-room larcenies occurred are, Breslin said, Bethlehem, Guilderland, Glenville, and Greenbush.

Breslin said, “Across our association, we are aware of 10 members who were affected by Master combination locks being accessed unlawfully.”

Hornick said there have been a dozen cases of locker-room theft since Jan. 1 at the Bethlehem YMCA, at 900 Delaware Ave. He added, on April 14, that four of the incidents at that facility had occurred “in the last 10 days.”

Items were taken from “locked and unlocked lockers” and included money, wallets, and car keys, according to Hornick.

He said that, of the 10 thefts that Bethlehem Police are investigating, just two involved compromised locks.

“Unfortunately, some of the ways that people compromise the locks are things you can find on the Internet,” Hornick said. “So there’s no guarantee that there’s only one person, hitting all these places.”

Police believe that people have seen the suspect or suspects, Hornick said, and not known that they were committing crimes. “If you go in the locker room and see someone with a pair of pants in their hand, taking out a wallet, how do you know that that’s not their locker?” he asked.

Suspects are gambling, Hornick said, that the owner of a particular locker will not walk back in as they take the items. Suspects watch, he said, and most gym users, after leaving their belongings in the locker room, don’t return for a half-hour or an hour, he said.

Most of the cases that the Bethlehem Police are investigating, he said, involve larcenies of items from unlocked lockers. “People aren’t even putting a lock on them,” he said.

The police are encouraging Y patrons to leave their valuables at home, said Hornick. Alternatively, he said, people should consider using not a lock that comes with a preset combination, but “the kind of lock where they decide their own combination.”

The locking mechanism used in that type of lock is different from that with a factory-preset combination, and may be harder to tamper with, Hornick said.

Besides leaving valuables at home, police recommend that people keep car keys with them, “on their person,” Hornick said, while they work out.

If YMCA patrons cannot avoid bringing valuables — for instance, if their schedule involves stopping at the Y before or after work — they should leave valuables in a locked car, out of sight, both Hornick and Breslin said.

“For instance, I will put items in my trunk, before I get to the Y,” said Breslin.

Hornick said items could also be left in a glove box or center console.

Breslin said the Bethlehem Police are working with other local police departments and with the YMCA to try to learn if there is any pattern to the locker-room incidents.

The Y has been open in its communications with members about the thefts of items from lockers, Breslin said. “We haven’t done anything wrong, so we want to be sure to let members know that, if they can, it’s better to leave valuables at home.”

Last fall in the parking lots

In October and November of 2016, said Hornick, there was a series of “smash-and-grab” car larcenies at local YMCAs, in which perpetrators smashed car windows and took items that had been left out in plain view.

Asked if the smash-and-grab larcenies didn’t create loud noises in the parking lots that passersby might notice, Hornick said that perpetrators used tools that allowed them to break the windows quietly.

Police believe, about those earlier incidents, he said, that the perpetrators were “a very sophisticated criminal enterprise that operates in a couple of different tiers.” One group, he said, “wears wigs and makeup and stuff like that, and try to dress like the person on the driver’s license and goes to the bank and tries to cash the checks.” That group is usually women, Hornick said.

The other group, he said, is men who take the items from the cars.

He said police refer to the entire group as “the Felony Lane Gang,” because when perpetrators go to the bank, in cars with stolen plates, they often use the drive-through — specifically, the lane furthest from the building, where tellers cannot see their faces clearly.

Their crimes are often complex, Hornick said — for instance, they might steal a checkbook from one victim and a driver’s license from another, write a check from the first victim made out to the second, and go to the bank dressed as the second victim to try to cash it.

The series of larcenies from the YMCA parking lots is not yet solved, but “an investigation is ongoing, and there have been some developments,” Hornick said.

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