Parking lot safety tips you need to know

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - A shopping trip to an Ikea off Interstate 10 turned violent for a wife and mother of three in the middle of the day.

"I'm walking to my car and I hear a scream," a woman only identified as Stephanie said. "I look around (and) he's coming toward me. But I didn't know there was somebody else behind me. There was another one behind me, young too, and he grabs me."

The man tried to take her purse.

“The strap of the purse snapped," Stephanie said. "The purse fell to the floor, and that's when the gun comes out. He just starts smashing my face. It felt so, so heavy on my face. It just, it was scary."

Montgomery Chief of Police and former Secret Service agent Jim Napolitano said parking lots are a hotbed for criminals seeking distracted, unsuspecting victims.

“It's an easy place to hide out if you're a criminal," Napolitano said. "You can be sitting there all day watching for a victim that you would like to pick out."

KPRC Channel 2 News teamed up with Napolitano to walk through a few very common parking lot scenarios to help would-be victims stay safe.

“Be aware of your surroundings (and have) absolute awareness," Napolitano said.

Scenario No. 1: Someone tries to snatch your purse while you're walking to your car

This is exactly what you don't want to happen: You didn't pay attention, you didn't look around the corner and you're walking very close to these cars. You didn't give yourself any distance from where a person could hide,” Napolitano said. 

He said to check for hiding spots where predators could lurk and walk in the center aisle of the lot, adding that your safety is more important than your bag.

“Well, it matters what you have in it, and how much. If he has a firearm, maybe it's time to let that bag go,” Napolitano said.

Scenario No. 2: An encounter with a stranger in a parking garage

“He'll act like he's not paying attention to you, but you know he's following you,” Napolitano said. "(The) best thing to do is obviously assess the situation, get away from them as quickly as possible, get some distance between you (and) go back into the building where you came from, not past him. If you have to go out of the garage and all the way around, do it as quickly and as fast as you can."

Scenario No. 3: Targeting shoppers as they load groceries into their cars

Napolitano said moms ask him about this scenario all the time, and it's one thieves have been taking advantage of recently.

“You want to take your purse or your bag. Then, once it's secured on your shoulder, you pick up your child, and take them to the (vehicle), not worrying about your groceries. Secure your child and bag in your car. Last thing you get is your groceries.”

Napolitano offered his top four safety tips for parking lot safety:

  1. Check your surroundings.
  2. Keep a safe distance between you and strangers.
  3. Create a path for movement.
  4. If it doesn't feel safe, go back inside. Don't go to your car.

“The safety is to go back into the area that you just came from, where all the people (are) that are working and can assist you in that kind of situation,” Napolitano said.

Stephanie said the ordeal has changed her entire life.

“After that happens, you're more aware of your surroundings, which is sad that this had to happen for you to be alert of everything that's around you,” Stephanie said.

WATCH BELOW: Napolitano goes through two additional safety scenarios.

WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE IS WAITING FOR YOU IN THE GYM PARKING LOT:

WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE IS STANDING BY YOUR CAR:

To contact Chief Napolitano for self-defense classes or other security services, visit www.USSSInc.com.

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