Fitness Centers Turn to Surveillance Cameras for After Hours Security

Go ahead — work out. No one's at the gym, watching.

Except the security cameras.

Around-the-clock fitness franchises are popping up in Washington County and across the Twin Cities, touting high-quality exercise equipment and the convenience of security features that allow members to exercise when no employees are on duty. Cameras record who enters and leaves, and clients expect to be under security surveillance.

Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness, both based in the Twin Cities, work in this vein by offering members access keys that let them in at any hour. The hours the sites are staffed vary across the franchises.

This accessibility is a popular business model, according to franchise founders. The ability to work out anytime is the draw, while high-tech security features give members and management a sense of safety.

"There's not a spot in this gym that isn't on camera, except for the restrooms and tanning area," said Stephanie Koch, co-owner of the Cottage Grove Anytime Fitness. Cameras even capture what goes on 20 feet into the parking lot, she said.

Anytime Fitness also has a "tailgating" system to prevent someone from walking in directly after another person in order to keep out individuals who don't belong to the gym. The system requires each person who walks through the door to have his or her own key.

Violators are flagged, and management can review usage to pinpoint culprits. Depending on the franchise, the tailgating alarm, once activated, could go directly to police so officers can be dispatched.

The commitment to security is what Jeff Tucci of Cottage Grove likes about Anytime Fitness, which he recently joined. "I like that no one can get in without being noticed," Tucci said. "It's not so much for me but for my wife, who often comes after work."

The operations have critics. Oakdale Police Chief Bill Sullivan said that while the 24-hour sites sound like a good model, they also appear to be "fraught with problems." Both companies have Oakdale locations, and Sullivan said police have had no problems at either business.

"I'm the conservative police chief," Sullivan said. "It's always good to have a human being around. … Instinctively, I have some concerns about going somewhere with no human supervision."

But others, including Apple Valley Police Chief Scott Johnson, say that working out at these gyms is no different than working out at a hotel or private home, where accidents also are possible. Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness have locations in Apple Valley.

"(Convenience) is what customers are looking for," said Snap Fitness CEO and founder Peter Taunton. "The people that are coming into these type of facilities, supervision is not what they are looking for."

Both franchises have taken steps to ensure that help will come if needed. At Snap Fitness, a courtesy phone is available for 911 calls. At Anytime Fitness, members can wear panic buttons that dial emergency services if help is needed.

Anytime Fitness also is working on a facial-recognition feature expected to be completed by the end of the year.

"These things keep you safe so that we can be open 24 hours without worrying about you," Koch said.

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