Parking Lot Safety, Part 1

By Alex Haddox

Crime is an unfortunate reality in our increasingly compacted urban communities. The purpose of this column is to help make readers less likely to become a victim of crime. Raising awareness about the methods used by criminals and equipping readers with the knowledge to reduce their exposure to attacks are two methods to achieve this goal. The intent of this column is not to turn everyone into a bunch of scared rabbits frantically sprinting from safe zone to safe zone. Blind or misguided fear is just as dangerous and debilitating as complete ignorance. There is a fine line between education and fear mongering that must be tread mindfully. Providing insight into how crimes happen and offering techniques anyone can incorporate into their lifestyle will hopefully allow readers to better protect themselves and their loved ones.

Most of us think of parking lots as safe: With the bright lights, security cameras and other people walking around we feel safe. However, when we are lulled into a sense of safety we tend to let our guards down and are easily distracted. That distraction, that lack of awareness, is what puts us at risk.

From personal experiences, almost all crimes against friends and family have been committed in parking lots or parking structures.

  • My father was knocked unconscious and robbed while loading books into his car after work. It was in the evening.
  • In high school, one of my water polo team members was robbed at knifepoint in a school parking lot. It was an away game and rather than take the bus with the rest of the team my friend decided to drive himself. As he got of out his car, he was approached, threatened and his wallet was taken. To his credit, he still played in the game. It was just after 3 o’clock.
  • One of my workout buddies was robbed at gunpoint in his home carport. He had just arrived home after one of our workouts. As he was getting out of his car someone put a gun to the back of his head and demanded his wallet. He complied, never turning around. It was about 8:30 in the evening.
  • One of my neighbors was robbed at gunpoint as she was getting into her car to head to work. She was parked curbside in front of our building. As she got into her car, she was confronted at gunpoint and her purse stolen. It was 7:15am.
  • My sister-in-law was robbed in a grocery store parking lot. She was 8-months pregnant with her hands full of groceries as she walked to her car. A man ran out from behind some cars and yanked her purse from her shoulder, spilling her groceries and knocking her to the ground. He snatched her purse and kept running. Thankfully, she and my soon-to-be niece were fine. It was approximately 6:30 in the evening.

Just within my circle of friends and family I have been close to attacks around vehicles in the morning, afternoon and night. The first lesson is that time of day does not appear to be a huge factor.

Here is a look at parking lots from the perspective of the criminal:

  • Victims have money and goods
  • Victims are distracted
  • Victims have their hands full
  • There are many places to hide
  • Victims are trapped between large objects
  • The criminal's vehicle is ready for a quick get-away

The first step in self-defense - and this will be a continuing theme - is awareness. Be aware that parking lots are dangerous. Just keeping an eye to your personal safety as you move from the store or your office to your car will make you safer.

Why? Body language. When you are aware and alert you carry yourself differently. Your body language says, “I see you” and “I am ready,” which is a deterrent to an attacker. The robber wants a soft target; someone that they can control and manipulate easily. They are not looking for a fight, just a quick and easy score. So carry yourself upright. Stand tall and confident. Look around. Walking with your head down, shoulders rolled while fumbling for your keys screams “victim” and “take my money.”

The next step in protecting yourself is to have your keys ready. Before you leave the building or enter the parking lot, have your keys out and in-hand. Standing between two cars with your hands in your pockets or digging through your purse puts you at a disadvantage and distracts you from your surroundings.

Another option to consider is traveling with other people. Two people are infinitely harder to control than one. So if your grocery store clerk asks you, “Would you like help out with that?” say, “Yes.” It is a free service, you get an escort and help loading your car. An attacker is far more likely to pass over a group, even a small one, for an easier, lone target.

When you walk alone or even in groups, be certain keep one hand free. If you have both hands filled with bags you are more vulnerable than if you have one hand free. That extra hand can be used for just about anything from maintaining balance to opening a door to fending off an attack to deploying a defensive weapon.

Next month’s column will continue the discussion of Parking Lot Safety with more scenarios and suggested defensive techniques.

First published by Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine.