Parking lots are an integral part of our modern lives. They are attached to the places we go to shop or for work. They can serve a logistical function as in “Let’s meet at the Walmart parking lot to carpool to the picnic.” And parking lots can also be dangerous places. They are convenient locales not only for law abiding folks but for criminals as well as in “Let’s meet at the 7/11 parking lot to make the drug sale.” After all, given the high numbers of people there, both business minded girl scouts and panhandlers alike hang out in lots, specifically those lots connected to retail establishments.
For criminals, parking lots also offer legitimate cover. The kinds of activities that occur there coupled with movement of high numbers of people can serve to mask criminal activity. Of course, this is more true of a large retail parking lot versus one located behind a manufacturing plant.
Not all retailers or real estate managers deal with parking lot security problems in the same way.
There are differences in how people approach the problems. There are those who (although they may own the property) do not focus on the lot because they are more loss prevention driven, and loss prevention takes place inside a store or mall. The focus is on the products being sold, and less on the people buying them. A company’s point of view as to priorities is apparent in how their security resources are allocated. Crimes against people are more likely to occur outside a retail shop.
What about the impact of perceived security on consumer behavior? Marketing studies have examined the impact if any of parking lot security on customers’ buying patterns and loyalty. Especially for retailers whose clientele are more vulnerable to crime – for example, women and the elderly – parking lot security is on their minds. Think of a grocery store where a majority of the shoppers are women. Marketing at a late hour at night could be potentially scary for some consumers; a store’s reputation for safety and security in these cases is particularly important. Think of the impact of a stolen steak or television versus a stabbing or rape. The media exposure and negative public relations for the latter case could heavily impact any business.
Retailers sometimes post security officers in parking lots to manage traffic, assure fire lanes are unobstructed, to provide help and information to customers or to wrangle shopping carts. The officers’ security role is less defined. Likewise, there are many big national retailers that book security for lots at the lowest possible cost. They see security as a necessary evil, perhaps an insurance requirement and a question of legal liability. They would prefer avoiding trouble but are unwilling to budget any more than necessary for security coverage.
There are solutions for making parking lot security better, and not all are expensive.
Absent dedicated security, it’s possible to have existing personnel step in for roles that make customers safer. Absent a guard, other staff can offer to escort a customer to their vehicle, for example. Reminding customers to watch their belongings and not leave them unattended, for example, in a shopping cart and help thwart a purse snatchings or two. The simple tip to strap a purse in via a cart’s kiddie seat belt is simple and will deter theft.
Obviously, lighting coverage should be thorough and checked regularly. One blown bulb can result in an immediate dark corner. CCTV camera coverage in parking lots is a good feature but often is designed to point from the store into lot. The result in that case is that outer corners and/or the perimeter is neglected. It’s easier and less expensive to install cameras on a roof than have to run cables out to a pole, but the savings could result in less effective coverage.
When security is posted, make sure the officer follows a proactive SOP that includes knowing suspicion indicators, getting red teamed, having security questioning skills, being training. Remove observe and report from the equation. Without these measures in place, the dollar value of the guard is rock bottom. With a good SOP and training, however, a security customer will get more bang for their buck.
When customers see an officer they can trust and criminals see an officer that’s on the ball, security anywhere but particularly in a parking lot will be enhanced.