All too often carwash crime hits the headlines, seemingly on a weekly ­— if not more frequent — basis across the U.S. A quick view of the recent news headlines on Google clearly paints a picture of the risk all carwashes face in this country:

  • Posted on Feb. 19, 2016: “Man indicted by Bowie County grand jury in car wash robbery”
  • Posted on March 8, 2016: “Temple: Local man sentenced after pleading guilty to robbery” at a carwash
  • Posted on March 12, 2016: “Champaign man accused of attempted robbery” at a carwash
  • And, “Cumberland County grand jury indicts accused car wash robbers,” posted on March 13, 2016.

Jennifer Spears, sales manager with CarWashCameras.com, sums it up best on the propensity of crime at carwashes. “Unfortunately,” she says, “owners and operators see it all.”

Risk assessment: Know what you’re up against

Just about most crimes that can be defined under U.S. law can be committed at carwashes of all types in this country. From nonviolent drug deals and theft to armed robbery and assault, criminals for a variety of reasons see opportunities to extend ill-will on carwash businesses, patrons and employees. And, threats are not just external.

While the majority of this article will discuss external threats to your business, making sure your hiring practices are sound is a good first line of defense against internal criminals. Performing extensive background checks, advises Mike Benmosche, CIC, National Carwash Program specialist for McNeil & Co., especially for employees who will be handling money, is a critical component to your carwash’s security plan.

“It is [also] a good idea to be cautious with people who hang around at the wash. While the employees believe [these people] are just being friendly, it is possible the real purpose is to observe the weak spots that they can exploit as [thieves],” adds Benmosche.

Illuminate practical carwash security solutions

Spears notes some practical ways carwashes can limit their exposure to crime, including: good lighting; visible signage, which includes information about the property’s cameras, alarms, police patrol, ordinance participation, etc.; and 24/7 cameras that monitor your entire facility.

“Ultimately, you want eyes on your property all the time with the ability to remotely access the cameras at any time from all of your smart devices,” says Spears. “A lot of criminals look for easy targets. Dark businesses they can slink around at that are unmanned facilities with no cameras are ideal. Why work harder than they have to? So don’t make it easy for them.”

The security and carwash professionals we interviewed for this article all agree that proper, strategic lighting and visible signage in key areas of your carwash are important crime deterrents.

“Exceptional lighting is very important to help deter damage to equipment, [such as] vending machines, automated teller systems and change machines,” notes Benmosche, who also adds an interesting perception is reality best practice. “Wash law enforcement vehicles on a regular basis. Much of this criminal activity occurs on an impromptu basis, so the more difficult you make it look, the more likely you will be passed for an easier prey.”

Stay current with technology

A full-circle security plan involves, well, planning. Keeping up with new technology can help lower your risk and the costs associated with carwash crime. Attending industry events, such as next month’s International Carwash Association’s (ICA) The Car Wash Show™, is the perfect opportunity to speak with companies about their security solutions and new technologies.

For example, Innovative Control Systems (ICS) is scheduled to introduce a pair of new security solutions geared toward deterring crime before it happens. According to Bill Myers, the company’s director of support, these new products for carwash auto sentries incorporate the use of seismic and sonic sensors. The seismic sensors are similar to those found in ATM machines, which can detect any banging, metal-on-metal contact, drilling, etc. The sonic sensors incorporate motion detection technology.

“Displays are sometimes targeted and smashed by perpetrators to gain access,” says Myers. “So, at the front of the auto sentry, we’re using a sonic sensor that will know when someone approaches the front of the payment kiosk when the wash is closed.”

According to Myers, once the technology recognizes an abnormality, video and audio warnings are played to let criminals know police have been alerted. “It is something that will scare the perpetrator away, and let [him or her] know that [he or she has] triggered an alarm,” he explains. “It’s similar to a perpetrator who approaches a house to break in, then leaves when motion detectors turn on the flood lights. Both kiosk deterrent security safeguards can be connected to the operator’s on-site security system.”

In addition to new technologies hitting the market this year, Spears notes that existing solutions are also staying current with emerging trends.

“Surveillance has come leaps and bounds in the last few years with the addition of remote access and smart device apps that give you direct real-time access into your cameras. So anytime, day or night, you can log into your secure system and look at live and recorded footage for all of your cameras. You can do this for multiple sites as well. And you can integrate with the high-speed access you already have on-site for credit card transactions,” says Spears.

According to Spears, remote access should be a standard feature on any kind of system you choose, such as the popular 1080p TVI or HD-SDI options all the way up to the ultra expensive IP systems.