Black Friday calls for increased vigilance in parking lots

Retail security experts discuss best practices, lessons learned

"Parking garages are a challenge year round. Security personnel have a disadvantage as it is simple enough for someone to just duck down inside a car and not be seen," he said. "Anything that would enhance the ability of a customer to communicate with a centrally located security department should be considered. I think that creates an environment that says to the possible offender that we take our security very seriously."

While they have their own set of security challenges, Gantenbein said that parking decks can also be easier to protect in some respects because they have limited entrances and exits.

When it comes to protecting employees in parking areas, Gantenbein said that stores can have guards escort them to their vehicles or have assigned parking spaces in some instances to better utilize resources.

"That certainly allows the mall and loss prevention to utilize their cameras to help detect potential intrusions or an assault," he said "When an associate can park in anywhere in a lot, I think it can create more exposure."

Retailer's "duty of care"

Another thing that retailers need to be aware of when it comes to securing their parking lots is the legal paradigm known as "duty of care" or what "reasonable" security measures they should have in place to protect against potential litigation.

According to Murphy, duty of care boils down to the foreseeability of crime in an area and how a retailer or other establishment addresses their perceived threat level.

"If a mall never had security, then maybe that's the point in time that it's appropriate to begin formulating a program for that," he said. "If they already have mall security, where are the crimes happening? What time of day? What types of crimes? They need to go into an analysis mode to determine all of the things a police department would try to work with to establish where patrols should take place. That is a reasonable expectation of a security company that's guarding the parking lot of a mall or shopping center."

Still, Murphy said that the changes made do not have to be dramatic, but more incremental in nature.

"What I tell apartment managers and things of that nature is you don't have to go out and immediately erect a 10-foot wall and put guard towers up, it's incremental," he said. When we say a standard, reasonable care, it's exactly that. What's a reasonable person going to do once they're made aware of a certain level of activity happening on their location? Doing nothing is unacceptable, but then again, putting a battalion of marines out is also unreasonable, so you've got to find that balance."

Baillie said that past incidents at a site also play a role in a retailer's duty of care and he encourages the use of crime analysis mapping to better determine what security measures should be implemented.

"Retailers, at least once a year, should be doing crime analysis mapping on their businesses," he said. "That would allow them to see the different types of crimes that are occurring on the property and allow them to effectively plan for security measures."

According to Gantenbein, retailers should view parking lot security as a critical part of their business operations.

"It's a critical imperative for individual stores and mall associations to put on their best hat when it comes to potential business disruptions and violence and losses at their respective locations," Gantenbein said. "It's difficult to anticipate if someone has a can of Mace in their purse or what they may do with it. I don't know that you're ever going to totally mitigate the fact that on occasion these things will happen. Sometimes things happen, but I think (retailers) are doing the best they can and they have to or there's consequences."