Parking Lot Safety, Part 2

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.

Last month we initiated our discussion of Parking Lot Safety. This month we pick up where we left off and conclude our discourse.

As you approach your car, scan the area around your vehicle and back seat. This need not be an overt inspection; a quick glance will suffice. The aim is to see if anything is out of place inside and outside of your vehicle before you squeeze between two large objects. As you approach your car, peek between other cars. Is anyone there? If so, does he look busy or is he just hanging out? Does he avoid your gaze and look away? If you get an uneasy feeling, keep walking and return with an escort.

Another safety issue when it comes to parking lots, especially for women, is abductions. Abductions are quite rare despite the media fervor they generate. However, they do happen and for that reason and that reason only, it is discussed here. One popular approach is to park a large vehicle, usually a van of some type, next to the victim's car. As the victim moves to the driver-side door, the large sliding side-door on the van opens, the victim is hauled into the van, the door shuts and the van drives away. Another method is to target women with young children. Strapping the child into a car seat distracts the mother allowing the criminal to hop into the vehicle. The kidnapper then threatens the child, forcing the mother into quiet compliance.

Video surveillance in parking lots and structures is capturing abductions and robberies on film. Unfortunately for the victim (and this applies to both robberies and abductions) this merely provides documentation of the attack and does nothing to interrupt the incident. Prominently displayed cameras may act as deterrents, but they can only bear silent witness to events in progress. Even if the monitors were manned and actively watched, there is no way security or police could respond to the parking lot in time to intercede. These incidents start and finish in a matter of seconds.

Recalling the personal examples from Part 1 of this article, most of the attacks happened at the transition point between getting into or getting out of the vehicle. You are highly vulnerable during that period. Consequently, you want to make that window as small as possible, thereby reducing your exposure to attack. Dilly-dallying by cleaning your glasses, loosening your tie or digging for your MP3 player creates a larger window of opportunity for a would-be attacker. Make all those adjustments once you are inside with the engine running and doors locked. Put your briefcase or bag in the car and follow it in quickly afterwards.

Once inside, lock your doors immediately. Some cars automatically lock the doors when the transmission is engaged, but do not wait that long. Put your stuff down, get in and lock the doors. Locked doors will give you more time to start the engine and get away if someone strikes out at you. Once you are inside the car, with the doors locked and engine running, you are much more likely to come away from a confrontation unharmed.

Another option is to valet park your car. In many areas, shopping malls now offer a free or under $10 valet service. You should not consider this a luxury, but a low-cost security option. Instead of trying to navigate a dangerous parking lot with stressed-out drivers swerving to and fro with your hands full of bags or children, pay the minimal fee and have your car brought to you. The added safety and convenience is worth a few dollars.

Now that we have covered tactics and habits that you should consider incorporating into your daily routine, we will conclude with a few bad habits you should break.

Something not to do is get out of your vehicle once you are inside. Criminals are currently using a technique to get you out of the car once you are safely inside. They are placing small cards, such as mini-flyers and business cards on inconvenient places on windshields. These are small and strategically placed so that they are not immediately visible when you approach your car, but they are annoying enough that once you sit in the driver's seat you want to remove them. They are counting on you to open your door, slide out and remove it. This tactic reopens the vulnerable transition window for the criminal to strike. The solution is not to exit your vehicle once inside. Drive to a safe area, even a few isles away, and then remove it. Of course, if it is blocking your vision use common sense and clear it. However, something large enough to seriously obstruct your view should be apparent when you do your quick survey as you approach your car.

Another thing not to do is put your seatbelt on immediately. It is nearly impossible to get out quickly or even move around in your car while strapped into a device designed to restrict quick movements. Therefore, wait to put your seatbelt on until you are ready to pull out of your parking spot. You should always wear a seatbelt, but snapping in should be the last thing you do before you start driving.

Parking lots and structures are treacherous. From unobservant drivers to the criminal elements that could be laying in wait, we must have maximum awareness when navigating parking lots.

First published by Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine.