Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Smile (or run), you're on camera!

October 11, 2010
One carwash. Four crimes within a year. And yet, Ron Romeo owner of Double Bubble Car Wash in Uniontown, PA, 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, isn’t closing shop or thinking of relocating. His carwash, which includes two touchless automatics and two self-serve bays, is all under careful watch 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Romeo’s “big brother” is his video surveillance system and everything that goes on at his wash, including criminals who like to see themselves on TV, are all caught on tape.


“The last guy was within one foot of the camera inside my equipment room and if he had any brains he would have ripped the computer out — which I had left on with the monitor showing the whole thing,” Romeo said.“And it was just sitting on a shelf, and he even looked at himself in the monitor and even fixed his hat.”

Making their presence known

Romeo’s Double Bubble cameras are large and he likes them that way. “They’re huge and I don’t cover them,” Romeo said. “I want people to see them. They’re in large housings on the outside of the building and I have various cameras throughout; nine in total.”

There’s not a doubt in Romeo’s mind that every potential perpetrator or thief can see those cameras. “My housings are 14 inches long and five inches wide. They’re so intimidating and not even in real high areas, because you can’t get good resolution when they’re too far away. I don’t understand these thieves; they’re so brazen.”

The most recent incident took place in April 2008, when a man tried to pry into his ACW, but didn’t make any headway. So he went to the equipment room where he took over $3,000 in cash. “We had a really good camera that was able to get a good look at his face and we were able to get a good look at his tattoos. We even saw that his car had a hubcap that was a tad different from the other three,” Romeo said. The state police posted one frame of DVD into a local newspaper.

After several weeks, the police sent the picture to a Pittsburgh news station. Within three days, a police officer recognized the perp and he was nailed. Turns out, he was wanted in five other counties. The week prior, he stole a purse from an elderly lady and knocked her down.

The proof is on DVD

Back in November, Romeo helped nab a guy who was on parole for murder. Two individuals broke into the vacuum sweepers and then two weeks later the same guys came back and tried to break into the self-serve bay meter boxes.

“One of the men was pretending to wash his car, but in a terrible fashion, so the neighbors called the state police and they transported a unit right away,” Romeo explained. But by then the men had gotten nervous and took off with the money they got out of the meter boxes.

Luckily for Romeo, it was all caught on camera. After a lengthy and high speed pursuit at 102 mph down the wrong way of a major four-way highway, both men were caught. One guy was on parole for murder, and Romeo’s video surveillance helped the cops tie the two incidents together.

Last June, Double Bubble was hit up again when someone removed two of his cylinder locks out of his front loading changer, but he didn’t get into the machine entirely and that incident was also caught on DVD. “I’ve got two really good camera shots. And I was able to get three digits of his license plate.”

Choosing the right camera

When Romeo built his carwash seven years ago, there weren’t a lot of surveillance companies to choose from that had remote view software. He found a company out of Toronto called Sentry Security.

The owner had never done a carwash before. He was used to doing pizza shops, convenience stores and banks.

“He really wanted to see the layout of the carwash,” Romeo said. “So he loaded up his vehicle with all different types of equipment and drove down here from Canada. He said, ‘We’re going to experiment with the different types and see what their capabilities are.’”

They used four different types and Romeo hardwired everything after he was told what to do and how to do it. “I found what I felt were the best locations,” he said.

The locations of the cameras, eight which record in color and one in black and white, include:

  • One camera per bay;

  • One on the very end of the building that oversees two vacuums and a fragrance machine;

  • Another one that pans across the back of the entrance area and oversees a change machine, a vacuum and three vending units;

  • One in the top corner of the other side of the building that watches the equipment room door and the back portion of the lot;

  • One in the equipment room; and

  • A final one above the second automatic bay entrance area that shoots down on the ACW.

The cameras record onto his computer’s hard drive and they’re remote viewable with a fixed IP address. Romeo, who is on the road a lot for work, says he only has time to “spot check” the footage. He says that the more frames per minute the cameras can capture, the better. They also need to be weather proof and with an exhaust fan.

A little added security

Romeo said the surveillance also protects him against lawsuits and liabilities. “Customers will call me and say, ‘You ripped me off’ or ‘The machine ate my money,’ and I’ll tell them that after I review my footage I will call you back. Then I’ll hear, ‘Well, that’s okay, forget about it.’ And then they’ll hang up. Sometimes they don’t realize that they’ve been recorded.”

Romeo said he has encountered a lot of situations that could have gotten him into trouble if it weren’t for the footage. “People are intoxicated and will come in at 2 a.m. in the morning and will think the doors are open and just drive through them. In February, a guy drove right through my door.”

He said his security system is also there to protect his patrons. “I wanted my place to be safe, too. I wanted females to feel safe and protected. That to me is just as important as protecting my carwash.”


?Debra Gorgos is the managing editor of Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine. She can be reached at dgorgos@carwash.com