Black Friday calls for increased vigilance in parking lots

Retail security experts discuss best practices, lessons learned

"Like any crime, when you have large clusters of people, the more people you have the more potential there can be for an incident," LaRocca said. "Having the appropriate amount of resources available, obviously working with law enforcement personnel and mall security officers would be key."

Jeff Floreno, director of operations and security strategy at loss prevention security solutions provider Wren, believes that retailers need to "draw a line in the sand" when it comes stopping unruly customer behavior and recommends that they conduct security assessments to determine where there greatest threats are.

"Some of the things I think we need to look at are what is happening in the community around that parking lot and then what's happening inside the parking lot," Floreno explained. "Let's say we have a parking lot in Washington, D.C. Are we going to put security in that parking lot to the same level that we would put in... maybe Woodbury, Minnesota? It's two different types of settings and two different types of crime levels. I think the retailers need to understand what the crime levels are and then develop a program for security."

Choosing the right solutions

In addition to having a physical security presence, nearly all security experts agree that retailers need to implement basic security measures in their parking lots.

One of them most obvious things that stores should include in their parking lot security plans is ensuring they have adequate lighting. According to Gantenbein, criminals use a risk-reward analysis just like people in other professions do and will strike in areas that are not well-protected with good lighting. Having good lighting will also provide a better quality surveillance image.

"You want to provide the safest and most secure environment for your customers and employees or they simply won't shop there or they won't work there," he said. "It really is a business imperative. You have to be able to detect and prevent and lighting and effective video will accomplish that."

Though Murphy believes that having cameras trained on parking lots is good, he said that, by and large, they are "silent witnesses" in retail environments because most are not actively monitored.
Baillie echoed these sentiments.

"If it is a retailer that already employs cameras in the parking lot and has direct lighting, I think the best thing is to make sure they're working and that they have somebody on the cameras that are actually observing the parking lot," Baillie explained. "This is not a time to just let the cameras run on the parking lot and catch something that may happen. It's time to have somebody actively watching the cameras and responding to situations that they determine are a potential issue."

In addition, Floreno said that retailers may also want the capability to push video streams out to security officers in the field through the use of mobile devices to help them respond better. (Click here to read an exclusive SIW column from Floreno on tips for using video to secure parking lots.)

He also recommends trimming trees and bushes, not only to eliminate potential camera view obtrusions, but to also reduce the amount of places a person could hide prior to an attack. Security experts say that parking lots that have surveillance cameras should also post signage that says the area is under surveillance.

Utilizing security officers

Bud Bradley, vice president, national accounts portfolio management at guard services firm AlliedBarton, which oversees security at more than 270 shopping centers and malls, said that the risks posed by Black Friday sales have made it necessary for retailers to bring in additional security personnel and that managing crowds and parking areas are the primary responsibility of security officers at these locations.

Guards can also be instrumental in helping traffic flow in and out of a shopping center, as Bradley noted that they can be entrusted to setup vehicle traffic patterns and also manage pedestrian traffic, which can prove difficult sometimes.
"It's pedestrian traffic that presents the biggest challenge to us," he said. "Making sure that people cross in the crosswalks and that they don't have their nose or face buried in a cell phone and they're not distracted while they're walking to and from their cars."