• Andy Murphy

Parking Lot Safety for Families

Updated: Apr 21



How Can We Protect our Families in a Parking Lot?


While we may not think about it, a parking lot carries a lot of risk for us and our families. A parking lot is a transitional area. This is a place that you don’t control, anyone can be there and there is no real authority. That’s when we experience the most risk and the bad guys know it. And they leverage it really well and that makes me angry.


I’m going to share two observations that I’ve seen recently and I want to make you aware of them to help you to make safer decisions in parking lots. The first is how to deal with surprise attacks in parking areas and the second how to make yourself a hard target. Both of these things work together.


Surprise Robberies in Parking Lots


It should come as no surprise to you that I see plenty of videos of crimes happening around the world. I see these videos on social media. Usually, they are posted for educational purposes so viewers can make safer decisions.

I can’t say this is an uptick in this type of crime because I’m not in a position to make that call, but I feel that more and more I’m seeing this type of crime happen. The crime goes like this:


A person is in a parking lot, a car with more than one person stops quickly beside the target, a person who is not the driver jumps out, violently separates the target from a valuable, then returns to the car where it speeds away.


Variations of this crime include kidnapping and it even happening on sidewalks and gas stations, not just parking lots. Anywhere vehicles can look normal in the environment, really.


Caught on Camera


Here is an example of this type of crime in action in San Antonio.

Click to see the story.


In this case, a woman is minding her own business loading groceries into her SUV during daylight hours with people around. Apparently, circle she leaves her purse in her shopping cart and she’s not far from it. A vehicle circles the lot, comes back around to her where a passenger grabs her purse from the window of the car.


The woman tries to get her purse back as the car pulls off and she’s dragged a few feet before she lets go. The robbers escape and she recovers from the attack.


Here’s another version of the crime happening in Minnesota.

Why it Makes Me Angry


This crime makes me angry because it is so hard to see it developing. There aren’t that many indicators we can see coming and you have to really be looking for the few that are there. The element of surprise is nearly overwhelming and leaves the target reeling at what’s happening.


In all honesty, I wouldn’t fare much better than the woman described in the news story I shared. This one is tough because the criminals have stacked all of the advantages.


To counter this crime, let’s use one of my favorite tools, the adversarial mindset. Meaning let’s think like a bad guy.


Let’s Think Like a Criminal


If I want to rob someone and get away quickly, of course, I’m going to use a car. I can use that car to control exactly where and how I want to escape. Where can I use a car where it will blend in and not look out of place while I spot targets? A parking lot fits my needs.


I do need more than one person as I have to drive. So someone is in the passenger seat. I’ll circle the parking lot until my accomplice and I spot a target we feel that we can get to quickly.

As the driver, I’ll pull up close to the target quickly. This way we can really surprise the target and we reduce the distance and time it takes to reach the target. My buddy will get out and grab their valuables, jump back in where I floor it out of the parking lot and then I’ll blend into traffic. The whole thing takes less than a minute and no one on my crew got hurt.


By the way, there are a lot of crimes that make me angry. I don’t like it when innocent people get hurt. The reason I hate this crime is that it works so well. That’s what I had to do in this show, it was to break it down so I can see what we can all do to make ourselves safer and combat this type of crime.


The reason I hate this crime is that it works so well.

So how do we stop this type of crime from happening to us? Let’s pause here and I’ll share with you something that I’ve personally seen and then we’ll bring it all together.


Observations from a Parking Lot


Recently, I spent nearly two hours in a massive hospital parking lot. Since I couldn’t go inside I backed into a parking spot and watched what was going on. I stayed off my phone and just observed the environment. Yes, I’m weird, but I like these sorts of things.


To make a long story short (too late) I watched people walk by and I noticed that the women made easier targets than the men. Now, these are just my observations from that day in that place - these are not national statistics to live and die by.


Most people I saw were alone. The women generally had valuables in their hands like a wallet, purse, keys, and even an iPad. They were also on their phones. The single men had nothing in their hands and were never on the phone.


I was able to see that the women had more valuable possessions that I could clearly identify and place a monetary value on. Plus they were distracted with their phones.


Thinking like a criminal, I want to know what I’m getting and what I can do with it. An iPad can be pawed or fenced easily. Keys mean I can steal a car. A wallet or purse means I can get quick cash or credit cards.


The men might have had similar valuables, but I couldn’t see them so they made less attractive targets because as a criminal, I’ll have to work harder and take more risks.


The Easiest Target


The easiest target I saw was a woman who appeared to be in her seventies who shuffled her feet when she walked and in her arms, she clutched an iPad in her hands, and on her arm was a purse. She was wearing nice clothes and didn’t seem to be looking around at who was near her.


This nice lady was an easy target because I knew she had valuables, wasn’t in the best shape to fight back and she was alone. By the way, I made sure she got to her car safely.


So what can we take away from this? Let’s look at our adversarial observations and reverse engineer what we’ve learned to make ourselves safer.


How to Protect Ourselves in Parking Lots


Thinking like a criminal who wants to strike quickly we see that cars cruising the parking lot with no real purpose need to be on our radar. Note them and do your best to stay away from them. If your intuition gives you a nudge, listen to it and leave if you feel like that is the best thing to do.


The bad guys are looking for visible valuables that they can quickly grab and go. This means, to the best of our abilities, we need to hide what we have. We can use a backpack, shopping bag, or anything that will hide what we have.


What this really boils down to is not making yourself look like an easy target.

Since the bad guys want to get away quickly we can surmise that they don’t want to get too far away from their vehicle. If you are caught off guard, which can easily happen in this scenario, the faster you can move away from the attacker’s car, the better your chances of getting away become. Creating distance always helps.


The vehicle is their anchor point, where the bad guys operate from, and they don’t want to get too far from it so it’s to our advantage to get away with our family as quickly as we can. And in the end, if they get your phone, wallet, or purse, but you and your family survive, then it’s not a bad day. Stuff can be replaced. You can’t.


This is a big topic and there’s more to discuss. For more on parking lot safety download Parking Lot Safety for Parents for even more information.



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