A rash of thefts at Old Atlanta Recreation Center has led the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Board to support adding security measures, including a required membership to use the facilities.
People currently have free use to play basketball or walk on the indoor track, but the recommended change would require them to have a badge with their information that they swipe upon entry.
The idea behind the change is to increase security and reduce thefts by knowing who’s in the facility, said Jerry Kinsey, director of parks and recreation.
The fees to obtain a badge are also intended to deter people who may be coming to the gym to commit thefts, Kinsey said.
The cost would be $10 for the first year, with a $5 annual renewal for Forsyth County residents ages 13 to 54. People 55 and older must have a badge, but registration would be free, with a $5 replacement fee for a lost pass.
Non-Forsyth County residents would be charged $120 annually for the pass.
Other visitors can pay a daily fee of $5 if they are accompanied by someone with a badge.
Anyone who already has a badge to use the gym or fitness classes wouldn’t need another one to play basketball or use the track.
The board voted 4-1, with member Daniel Slott opposed, on Tuesday to send the recommendation to the county commission for a final vote.
Slott felt the membership badge and registration should be required, but at no cost to Forsyth County residents, whose taxes built the facility.
Member Gary Cooper said the fee should recover the costs to create and maintain the registration.
He added that people who don’t live in Forsyth should pay a higher fee because their taxes don’t fund the centers.
Chairman Todd Holbrook favored an annual renewal, rather than a lifetime membership, so the information on the badge would be current and so that people would have to maintain their accounts.
“We’re going to have some kickback from this,” Holbrook said, as the board discussed a fair fee.
In addition to the fees and badges for entry, the county plans to install security cameras at the centers.
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle said cameras won’t necessarily prevent crimes from occurring, but will aid the agency in the following investigation.
Theft “is a crime of opportunity,” Doyle said, and the opportunities keeping presenting themselves at the rec center.
“It’s like fishing,” he said. “If the food’s there, they just keep coming.”
The bottom line, Doyle said, is that people need to take responsibility for and secure their personal belongings.
Deputy Randy Burton said 19 cell phones have been stolen from the south Forsyth center since June.
On Saturday, a 19-year-old Stone Mountain man was arrested near the center by a sheriff’s deputy who noticed a car and suspect with a description matching one given for a recent theft.
Burton said it’s believed the man is one of the main culprits in the ongoing thefts of personal belongings visitors leave out while playing basketball.
The sheriff’s office was unaware of the extent of the thefts at the centers because few people actually make a report of the incident, Burton said.
Since Commissioners Jim Boff and Cindy Jones Mills brought the issue to the attention of the sheriff’s office, the agency has increased patrols in the area and instructed facility staff to report any suspicious activity.