Parking Lot Crime: Writing About Burglaries and Robberies

By Piper Bayard
of Bayard & Holmes

Authors who write about crime need to understand crime. My writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a 45+ year veteran of field intelligence operations, and we often get questions about espionage and crime. In our last article, Writing Believable Driveway Crime: Carjacking & Kidnapping, we wrote about crime that commonly occurs in driveways. Today, we will take a look at crime in parking lots.

Burglaries & Robberies

Burglaries and robberies are the most common types of crimes in parking lots. The words are often used interchangeably, but they actually do have distinct meanings. Burglaries only involve property, such as breaking into a car to steal things. The only human involved in the act of the crime is the thief. Robberies involve an assault on a person, such as mugging or purse snatching. There is both a criminal and a physical victim. Robberies are generally considered more severe by the legal system.

Parking lot burglars are all about opportunities.

  • Unlocked car doors. An unlocked car door is an invitation to steal either the vehicle or the property inside.
  • Visible objects of value on the seats. Electronic devices, expensive sunglasses, or purses and wallets out on seats draw burglers like bugs to a bug zapper.
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals. Some more sophisticated thieves will roam through shopping center, hotel, restaurant, and other parking lots with discovery devices to check for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals. This lets them know there are electronics somewhere in the vehicle. If they locate a device, the vehicle it is in becomes a target.
  • People who aren’t carrying purses. At recreation centers and gyms, thieves are known to park and hunker down in their vehicles, watching for the women who don’t carry in purses. Knowing most women actually do carry purses most of the time when they leave the house, the thieves then break into the women’s cars to search for purses and other goodies.

Thieves also look at the exterior of the vehicle when deciding on targets.

  • An NRA sticker or some other pro-gun indicator is a definite target for a thief looking for firearms.
  • A political bumper sticker of any flavor in this Age of Outrage can also attract burglars who might see those who disagree with them as deserving of harm. (Political bumper stickers will also attract vandalism for the same reason.)
  • On a creepier side note, the stick-figure families people like to put in their back windows tell predators how many children are in the family and give clues to their genders and ages.

Defense Against Parking Lot Burglars

While it’s best not to leave valuables in our cars, sometimes, we don’t have a choice. A number of tactics will help minimize the chances of being the victim of burglars.

  • Always lock car doors.
  • Never leave anything valuable in a visible place in the vehicle.
  • Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on any devices that remain in the vehicle.
  • Don’t load packages into the trunk and then leave the car to go into another store. Thieves wait in parking lots for those opportunities, particularly during the holiday season.
  • Don’t advertise firearms, politics, or children on the vehicle exterior.

Robber’s Approach

Like burglars, robbers are all about opportunities. Since a physical victim is part of the equation, robbers seek easy targets. They look for the following attributes:

  • People who are average size or smaller.
  • Usually women. All wishful thinking aside, the actual fact is that women are most often easier to physically dominate.
  • Sadly, disabled people. However, genuine professionals consider disabled people to be low-value targets because so many of the disabled are poor.
  • People with closed body language. Positions such as hunched posture, head down, arms covering torso, and hands in pockets or fidgeting imply fear, discomfort, and vulnerability. Serial killer Ted Bundy once stated that he “could tell a victim by the way she walked down the street, the tilt of her head, the manner in which she carried herself, etc.”
  • People who are distracted or zoned out. The classic example would be texting or talking on the phone while going through the parking lot.
  • People who don’t have a vehicle. The most vulnerable people for robberies are people who walk rather than drive. That is because they are often alone, they often go to the same places, and they are burdened with their purchases as they go places.

Robbers also, of course, look for items of value to steal. A purse over a shoulder or in a hand, a bag from an expensive store, fancy jewelry, etc., will show robbers that there is a reward for their risk.

Defense Against Parking Lot Robbers

  • Be aware. When arriving at a parking lot, look into cars and spot people walking in the area. Know who is in the area and where they are.
  • Don’t park near cars with people sitting in them.
  • Before exiting the vehicle or the building, look around the parking lot. If something seems off, stay in the car or the building. Perhaps find security personnel to escort you.
  • Stand tall and walk with confidence and purpose.
  • Look directly at people and make eye contact. Criminals are less likely to attack someone who is paying attention to them.
  • Do business during the middle of the day rather than at night.
  • If out at night, park as close to the door as possible and under a light if there is one.
  • Keep hands free. For example, before exiting the car or the building, finish all texting and phone calls so that hands can be available to fight.
  • Keep packages in a cart whenever possible. This serves the dual purpose of keeping hands free and providing a cart to use to ram a criminal.
  • Survey surroundings before unloading packages into the vehicle. Are there people in cars nearby? Are there people walking nearby? Is someone driving past?
  • Keep purse strapped across the body so that people see it would be difficult to snatch.
  • For those who need to walk to stores and businesses, travel with a relative or neighbor whenever possible and keep items in a pushcart to keep hands free.
  • Carry a weapon and become proficient with it.

Carjackings and Kidnappings

Parking lots are also fertile ground for carjackings and kidnappings. Much of the information from the previous WITS article, Writing Believable Driveway Crime: Carjacking & Kidnapping, also applies in parking lots.

Carjackers usually work in teams and spot easy targets — unlocked doors and distracted drivers. Kidnappers also work in teams, which usually include a woman to lure in their target. However, there are some general defense points that that article did not include.

  • Watch for anyone following when exiting a parking lot. Kidnappers have been known to spot a target in a parking lot and follow them for an opportunity to snatch them off the street or in their front yard.
  • If concerned that someone might be following, drive around a block to see if they stick with you in a circle.
  • If someone is following, drive to a police station. Don’t lead them home.
  • Always have at least a half tank of gas in the car to avoid going to a gas station after dark. Self-serve gas stations are prime locations for carjackings.
  • Villains can attack from the sidewalk, so don’t drive in the right-hand lane unless intending to make a right turn.
  • Never exit the vehicle to argue with someone. People are always more vulnerable when outside the car, so ram them with the car if necessary, but don’t get out.
  • Never attempt to scare off an attacker by flashing a weapon. Letting a criminal see a weapon before it is used only gives them time to draw. In other words, any weapon not in use should stay hidden.

It is worth repeating from the previous article that if a kidnapper orders a target into a vehicle, the person should do everything possible not to get in or be put into the car. Scream, run, fight, hit the car alarm button on the key fob, etc. This is true even if the attacker has a firearm because if someone is willing to shoot someone in a public parking lot, anything they do

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