Three key steps to keeping your patrons' vehicles safe in your center's parking lot.

Parking lots at health clubs, YMCAs and municipal recreation centers are frequent targets of thieves, as many patrons leave belongings in their vehicles (usually for extended periods of time) instead of risking locker-room theft. Would-be burglars often survey the parking lot from their own vehicles, watching individuals park and noticing whether females carry a purse into the building. If not, they make their move, checking for unlocked doors or smashing a window to snag the purse and other belongings.

Because robberies often happen in spurts, with long periods of inactivity in between, it's easy for some facility operators to think their parking lots are immune. But law enforcement officials say they're probably not. Here are three steps to keeping your patrons' vehicles safe:

Increase the number of parking lot light fixtures (or the wattage of existing fixtures).

This is among the most inexpensive ways to deter theft and other property crime, and it's part of a wider approach called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Adhered to by many crime-prevention organizations, CPTED ensures intruders are easily observable through doors and windows that look out onto streets, parking lots and walkways.

Install security cameras.

Today's digital security cameras provide sharper and more flexible footage than older VHS systems that allow staff to only observe a vehicle break-in - not identify the perp's race, sex or other physical characteristics. Additionally, many police departments provide site-security surveys to local businesses, helping determine the necessary number and placement of surveillance cameras.

Encourage members to look out for each other.

Post signs in common areas reminding patrons to stow valuables in their trunk or other hard-to-see places - or better yet, leave them at home and carry only keys, a driver's license and their membership card. Also recommend that drivers lock their doors every time they leave their vehicle. Many burglars snake their way through parking lots, trying door handles until they find one that's open. Encourage members to feel comfortable reporting suspicious people or behavior in the parking lot.