Highland Park Cafeterias, like many other businesses, recently experienced parking lot security problems. After learning more about the problems and criminal types involved, we are using some proven methods to control and eliminate the problems with minimal inconvenience to customers and associates.

In this column, the first in a monthly series discussing business and home security issues, we’ll discuss solutions to parking lot security problems.

Parking areas raise important security considerations that can’t be ignored. Warehouses, factories, industrial service companies and other non-retail firms can use relatively simple, effective physical security barriers, fences and access control devices to secure parking areas.

Retail businesses, on the other hand, must allow easy access for customers, and retailers usually do not want the fortress appearance created by elaborate fences and other barriers.

Because solving a non-retail firm’s security problem can be relatively simple, this month’s column offers tips to retail businesses with parking areas.

The first steps in security planning include understanding the impact of potential losses and recognizing the nature of the threat. This may seem simplistic, but since each situation is unique, it is important to consider these factors when selecting a security program.

The loss potential in retail parking lots is significant, and an incident can be devastating to customers, associates and, of course, to the business itself.

In most cases, vehicle theft, burglary and vandalism are the problems. In some circumstances, physical assault must be addressed. Understanding the nature of the threat involves identifying the type of criminal most likely to be involved.

Without going into an elaborate explanation of the differences between classical, positive and modern theories of criminology, I will say I follow the modern-school theory. Simply put, modern-theory criminology holds that people commit crimes for many different reasons, including greed, social pressure, entertainment, passion and need.

The criminal types most active in parking lots are car thieves, vandals and automobile burglars. These people usually are young and, in the case of vandals, often commit crimes for excitement. These days, auto burglars and car thieves often are angry young people selected and trained by professional “handlers” who supply them with food, shelter and drugs in return for stolen property.

Vehicles stolen today in Dallas are likely to be delivered tomorrow to buyers in Mexico, or to be cut up in local “chop shops” and sold for parts here and throughout the country. Credit cards, personal checks and driver’s licenses are distributed to others or used by the criminals. Unless effective counter-measures are taken, retail parking lots provide thieves with an abundant supply of relatively easy-to-steal property that quickly can be converted to cash, drugs, alcohol or food.

The security planner must select a method to effectively counter the threat, recognizing a basic truth: In almost every situation, criminals seek targets with the easiest access, the highest possible value and the lowest possible risk.

This is especially true of criminals involved in vehicle theft, burglary and vandalism. In order to deter this threat, a security planner must find affordable ways to limit some or all of these factors.

Since easy access is needed for retail customers, controlling this factor often isn’t realistic. The same is true for controlling the value factor. “Possible risk,” then, must be controlled to counter the threat.

Among the best ideas: uniformed guards or off-duty police officers, intensified security lighting, reconfigured parking layouts for improved visibility, and area cooperative watch programs with clearly posted warning signs.

Keep in mind that determining the correct methods will depend upon carefully studying the target area and analyzing the circumstances involved.

The next time you walk across your parking area, visualize the surroundings from a criminal’s point of view. Visualize ways to make the parking area a risky target, lowering its relative value and encouraging the criminal to seek another target. (This is the method used by U.S. government counter-terrorism planners.)

It takes careful planning and action, but parking-area security problems can be solved.

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