"Even the toughest steel is no match for an angle grinder - the tool of choice for many criminals now - but, what you can do is minimise the risk"
It is often said that prevention is better than cure, so a little effort to reduce the risk of an attack on premises or sportsgrounds will save time, money and heartache in the long run.
So says Andrew Gregory, Crime Prevention Design Advisor/Crime Reduction Officer for West Midlands police, who urges that, for specialist advice, a club's first port of call should be his local equivalent, who will be able to carry out a thorough survey of your site.
"First, remember that many crimes are opportunistic, so the thief will not necessarily have planned an attack but, because a simple opportunity has arisen (leaving grass-cutting equipment unattended on a sportsfield), they take it.
Clubs can conduct a simple survey themselves, he continues, yet rarely do people have any idea how a thief operates. They also have little knowledge about basic crime reduction measures.
As most thefts are opportunistic, try and look at your building or site "through a thief's eyes", he suggests.
Criminals try to pick premises that look unoccupied, have little or no obvious security and where they think they won't be seen or apprehended. "The technique that we employ in all security surveying, however large or small, is called the 'Onion-peeling principle', Gregory explains.
"Imagine peeling off the layers off an onion. The process simply means starting at the outside and working inwards to the 'risk target' (what the potential offender might want to damage or steal). In practice, this involves some preparation before visiting the sportsground or building."
Clubs then need to look at the environment - outside the perimeter or boundary - and work into the centre of the area that is to be protected (the interior). "This process applies to every type of building, from detached houses with gardens through to a bedsit in a shared house," he adds. "It also includes commercial buildings, sportsgrounds, garages, outbuildings and sheds."
Next, look at the perimeter or boundary, and the state of the walls, fencing or other barriers. "We examine the shell of the property including windows, walls, doors and accessible roofs and, finally, work in towards the interior of the building - its layout, design and the property stored inside. Always bear in mind that a target can be in any of the layers."
At each layer, the aim is to delay the offender and protect or, if possible, remove any potential targets, make it more difficult for the potential offender to attack the property and give the maximum amount of surveillance.
"Your local crime prevention design advisor (CPDA) or crime reduction officer (CRO) can give advice on CCTV and alarm systems, but most crimes can be prevented by some simple housekeeping procedures," adds Gregory.
"Many police areas run Neighbourhood Watch, Business Watch or Community Watch schemes that I would encourage clubs of any size to engage with. This could provide clubs with regular information and advice via a written bulletin, telephone ring-around or text/SMS facility."
They are excellent ways to share information quickly with other concerned members within the community, he believes. "We often receive valuable intelligence about people acting in a suspicious manner, loitering around sports areas with the intention to commit crime.
His final words of advice: "Contact your CPDA or local police Neighbourhood Team to enquire about the schemes running in your area. In any case, if you have any intelligence that may assist in preventing, reducing or detecting crime, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 -www.crimestoppers-uk.org."
But, how secure is 'secure'? Newport Fugitives Athletics Club in South Wales thought they'd taken the appropriate measures to ensure the safety of their grass care machinery, until, when arriving one morning, voluntary groundsman Robert Franklin realised they'd fallen prey to thieves, who had broken in to their steel padlocked container, taking with them several hand tools.
Franklin is also managing director of West Country Steel Buildings, specialists in the supply and installation of horticultural buildings for the last twenty years.
"We're relatively new to the sports sector, but we've definitely seen a growing demand for more secure units," says Franklin. "It is nigh on impossible to completely prevent theft. If thieves are determined then they will break into anything," he adds. "Even the toughest steel is no match for an angle grinder - the tool of choice for many criminals now. What we can do though is minimise the risk by reducing potential access points, with front opening doors and padlocks being some of the easiest routes in for criminals. We only supply a 14-part locking system, which has no padlocks so, short of using an industrial tool, it's difficult to access our units."
The padlock proved to be the weak point for Newport Fugitives, with thieves able to access their shed with relative ease using a battery powered angle grinder. Since the theft, Franklin has installed a modest steel building and all the large machines are now tagged, he adds.
The club is not alone in its desire to boost security. He reports a growing number of golf clubs wanting to secure machinery by installing steel buildings.
"The issue of saving money comes into play much more now," Franklin argues. "Many clubs simply cannot afford to risk machinery thefts."
The company also advises sites on the level of insurance they need to allow for any claims they might make - with many insurers insisting security measures are in place for policies to be valid.
Clubs should strive to be "as secure as it is practicable to be", according to John Hodgson, general manager of Cleveland Sitesafe Ltd, which manufactures and installs bespoke or 'off the shelf' all-steel security and vandal resistant products, spanning from small steel transit boxes to large modular steel buildings used for garaging compact tractors and mowers.
Made primarily in 3mm steel plate, buildings can be clad to suit in brick, stone or timber to create a 'softer' attractive exterior that disguises the inner strength of the structure.
"We manufacture to a higher level than insurers require," says Hodgson, who adds that a spate of crime often leads clubs into a false sense of security. "It only affects a limited number of sites and is noticeable for a while. Then there may be no cases for years."
"Simply replacing stolen tools or machinery after a theft is not enough. Thieves may come back to find that security has not been addressed."
The tools and machinery under lock and key may not always belong to the club.
Sports contractors may store their equipment and vehicles on site if it's more convenient to do so.
Tending a number of cricket clubs and local schools in Surrey, Roger Ward, who runs Southern Sportsground Services, frequently has to transport his vehicles and machinery from site to site in the playing season, and finds that storing some of them on site makes good sense. But, he has been the victim of theft more than once.
"I insure my own equipment and apply appropriate security measures," he says. "Insurance companies are becoming tougher, although, when I had a tractor stolen, the company settled without too much fuss."
The science behind theft baffles him though. "At Old Whitgiftians in South Croydon, thieves made off with a trailer and a rotary mower, leaving a brand new Toro in the shed. I'd wheel-clamped the trailer but they dragged it around the ground until it came off. Now, I've added more clamps and locks to my kit to make it harder for them."
The choice of security products available continues to grow, so it's difficult to know what's right for your club. With so many options and many suppliers insisting their products are "ideal" for preventing break-ins, clubs that arm themselves with the right information may well avoid unnecessary outlay on inappropriate solutions. "Clubs first need to work out what the most valuable equipment they own is, then look to installing a secure building, ideally a brick or steel construction," argues Clive Baker, chairman of the physical security section of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) - the trade body covering the UK's professional security industry.
As managing director of Swedish lock manufacturer, KABA, Baker has a firm handle on locking and key control. "No matter how good a padlock might be, there's nothing that can stop determined thieves," he insists. "If the padlock method is chosen though, it's essential to have one that is shielded or shrouded."
"A gate shield steel clamp or lock shield will make it extremely difficult for thieves to break in as the tools often used, like power grinders, cannot physically get to the lock to cut it."
Securing all access routes is one simple but often overlooked facet of security, with traditional entry, such as outward opening doors and windows being some of the most vulnerable aspects of a building.
"It's always best to go for inward-opening doors if the size of the unit allows it," advises Baker. "They're good because they hide the hinges, which are often the weakest part of any door. We would recommend using hinge pins or hinge bolts as well to avoid risk of tampering."
Securing buildings does not have to be expensive, he stresses. One of the easiest ways to guard against window break-ins, or through glazed doors, is by using a simple grill, Baker adds. These can be easily and cheaply bolted on to the front of the window to deliver an effective deterrent. Crucially though, all bolt ends should be cut off so they cannot be unscrewed with professional tools.
Access through roofs is another route worth protecting against, especially if it's a pitched or felt lined one, which can often be cut through easily. A tiled or timber roof would be preferable but, on the whole, the roof is perhaps the least successful route for criminals, Baker believes, especially if they're targeting larger machinery - "after all, it's hard to get a mower through a roof".
"If possible, always take as many precautions as is affordable, as many insurance policies will stipulate such measures," he advises.
Although large machines are harder to steal, professional thieves will, in most cases, be looking to take these big ticket items as they are the most lucrative to sell on. Employing a second line of defence within the building may prove to be the difference between keeping and losing expensive pieces of kit.
"The most important step to take to secure big machines would be to fit a ground anchor, which is concreted into the floor. The machine can then be securely chained to the ground and will, hopefully, be thief proof," explains Baker.
If the worse does happen and expensive machinery is stolen, a third line of defence can come into play. Smart water or smart marking is a way of labelling machinery so it can be traced if stolen. It's a valuable tool as it allows police to identify any lost property although, as Baker explains, it's still not being employed widely enough.
More commonly used on cash machines and in banks, smart water is released when equipment is tampered with. Once on the skin, it can be seen under a special light for up to seven months - although this method is more of a deterrent to thieves than a precautionary measure for clubs, says Baker.
The more practical method for machine safety is to use a special varnish. Within the varnish liquid are tiny numbers making up a unique code. The varnish is then applied to the machine in an inconspicuous place.
The numbers cannot be seen by the naked eye, only under a high-powered magnifying glass so, if stolen items are recovered, they can be returned to their owner. "One of the biggest problems with machinery thefts is that, once they are gone, it's highly unlikely that the owner will ever get them back again unless they've been marked."
"Marking is still in its infancy in sport and amenity, but I would strongly advise that clubs consider it if some of the other measures have not already been taken."
Machinery theft in other sectors, such as construction and agriculture, has become so serious that one manufacturer has started to tag its products in an effort to address the issue.
John Deere is collaborating with Datatag ID Ltd, which operates the Construction & Agricultural Equipment Security and Registration (CESAR) scheme, to protect certain of its smaller tractors.
They prominently display "tamper proof" CESAR registration plates, fitted to deter theft or vandalism, along with additional ID technology, including miniature transponders, Datadots and a forensic DNA solution.
All Deere's Mannheim-built tractors will be fitted with the official CESAR Scheme Datatag system as standard, starting later this year with the agricultural sector. "We began to see thefts increase when the pound weakened against the Euro," explains Henry Bredin, their turf product marketing manager.
"It became appealing for thieves to steal tractors in the UK and sell them in Eurozone countries, so we had to take sensible measures to protect our customers and reduce the expense of stolen machines."
Whilst the 500 series tractor, a model currently fitted with Datatag, is used in amenity, the scheme is yet to be rolled out fully across this sector, although investigation is underway so see which machines would benefit most, Bredin reveals.
Before CESAR was introduced, the average recovery rate for stolen machinery was only 5%, according to industry estimates. Latest figures show the recovery rates for a stolen CESAR-registered machine have risen to almost 30%, and suggest that owners are four times less likely to have such a registered machine stolen and six times more likely to have it recovered.
Leading insurance companies, including NFU Mutual, have already indicated that discounts are available for Datatagged equipment, with further reductions for machines fitted with additional tracking and immobiliser systems.
Individual door keys are already available for John Deere tractors, as well as anti-vandal kits to lock the bonnet, side shield, fuel tank, transmission oil reservoir and hydraulic oil reservoir, which are sold through the JD Parts system.
In contrast to leading edge advances, when budgets are so tight across sport, commonsense sometimes is all it takes to heighten security. Making sure care is taken with keys is one simple but often overlooked precaution, Clive Baker believes.
"Keys should all be registered and properly controlled," he insists. "Find out whether the keys are protected and if they are of an unusual design to make replication difficult. Ideally, each key should have a unique design on it, allocated to a specific member of the team. When the key is issued, make sure it can't be duplicated and that there's an individual mark on it to identify the user."
For those with the budget for bigger outlays, or simply those wanting to take the toughest measures to safeguard expensive machines, fencing is proving increasingly popular. "Pallersafe fencing, for example, is effective but isn't the most attractive product, and can become expensive if perimeters are long. It could be used in some areas and not others, but take advice before going ahead."
You would expect expense to be one of the primary drivers behind why some clubs have adequate security provisions and why others do not. The fear, as the recession took hold two years ago, was that the industry would fall victim to a rise in crime, with security precautions seen as one of the first things to be jettisoned as budgets tightened.
Yet, a recent survey conducted by the BSIA, looking at how the industry had been affected by the economy, showed that investment in security had not diminished. Local authorities were still investing and there were no signs of cutbacks.
Once a club has fallen victim to crime, a natural 'knee-jerk' reaction is to overcompensate by investing in all manner of elaborate, often unnecessary, security measures. Undertaking a professional assessment will give clubs the information they need about what form of security best suits their requirements and circumstances.
"Part of the problem of over-securing is simply that most clubs don't know what's best for them," says Julie Halliday, spokesperson for BSIA's security consults section, who stresses the good sense of completing an assessment before committing to any outlay.
"We're increasingly finding that clubs are either under or over secured," says Halliday, who also works for independent firm, SGW Security Consultants. "Companies will want to sell as many products as they can, so they tell clubs that their products are what they need. It's important to get impartial advice from someone who has no vested interest in any one company's products or services. Whilst security is essential, too much of it is needless and, ultimately, a waste of money."
An assessment can be done on any size of open space, private building, residential building, university grounds or local authority sports pitches, she explains, and a list of security consultants can be found via the BSIA website on www.bsia.co.uk.
Halliday explains what clubs can expect from their assessment. "We start by surveying the whole site, looking for any weak spots or vulnerabilities. Once completed, we consider the methods that might be best suited to guard against those weaknesses."
"One of the main issues for security is guarding the perimeter, which is often the best access point for thieves as people can come and go freely throughout the day. Professional thieves will often know at what times a target site will be busy or quiet, so the club needs to also know this information."
"If CCTV is in operation you have to be careful of the blind spots and that cameras are targeting the right areas. People will often put cameras all over the place without thought for their effectiveness. Unless they're monitored regularly, they're of little use."
Another problem with cameras, explains Halliday, is that people aren't scared of them anymore as they're seen all the time. However, recently introduced software called Viseum is aiming to offer a new dimension to CCTV operation, and works by having an array of cameras grouped together with one major camera centrally positioned.
The smaller cameras survey the whole area, whilst the main camera will focus in on an individual, if needed, and follow him or her if something suspicious is detected.
Typically, a two-day in-depth assessment, including recommendations by a professional surveyor, would cost between £1,500 and £2,000, although surveyors wouldn't generally recommend a specific installer, preferring to remain independent.