How safe is this parking lot?
December 1, 2017 5:41 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I have had a long-standing argument about whether or not a certain parking lot is safe. Details below.

I go to a gym in which the main entrance is located in the back of the building. I am a small woman. The gym is part of a stripmall. The stripmall has visible signs posted warning people not to loiter, and police drive by this parking lot every now and then. There was one instance of graffiti but it got painted over quickly and has not reappeared. However, in the same city, a few blocks down the street, one has a good chance of having one's car broken into if valuables are left in sight, and there are certain pockets and corners that are highly unsafe, to say the least, especially after dark. I have never seen anybody loitering in this parking lot, though apparently there were panhandlers hanging around it at one point. It is well lit. It is open late, with most activity occurring around the times people usually go to gyms, with a few people showing up in the off hours, the latter being mostly men. There is a steady trickle of people coming to and exiting this gym during business and after work hours, enough so that during these times there are always at around six to eight cars in the parking lot. In the off-times, though, when I sometimes go, the parking lot can be empty except for myself and my car and maybe one other. There is no other way for me to exit, and the exit and parking lot are not visible from the street. The only view members have into the parking lot before exiting is a small square window. There is a camera mounted by the exit. The exit itself is close to the corner of the building, behind which someone could hide and wait. The other feature behind which someone could hide is a large Dumpster. This is located on the far end of the parking lot.

My friend insists that the parking lot is dangerous because of the conditions I have described above, especially during the off-hours. She thinks it would be better for me to use the more steadily populated parking lot at another gym down the street.
That parking lot unnerves me because I've had people pop up at me from behind cars there, or walk up behind me, aparently out of nowhere, and ask me for change. Change is one thing, but a potential weapon is quite another, and, unfortunately, is quite possible in my state. And passers-by in that area are almost all glued to their phones and kind of indifferent. I'm hesitant to rely on that kind of passer-by to even look up should someone quietly or less quietly get into a scuffle behind some cars or trees in that busier parking lot. I usually feel unsafe in crowded and busy areas, anyway, because it seems like everyone believes nothing can happen because it's crowded.

Does the parking lot I use regularly sound safe to you? Or would you do as my friend says, and switch to the other gym and other parking lot?
posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would listen to your own gut. You know the place best.
posted by Miko at 5:44 PM on December 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

I really doubt either is more objectively dangerous. Unless there’s a record of crimes in one, the chance of something happening is probably very small. Go with the one you feel most comfortable with.
posted by FencingGal at 6:37 PM on December 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's kind of like asking someone to predict which parking lot you will be mugged in, which I don't think we can do. The feeling of safety isn't the same as being safe. But if you've been bugged by panhandlers and such in the one, I can see why you don't like it. I would get some pepper spray for your keychain, I have Sabre, and test it outdoors without the wind blowing your direction to make sure it works.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:51 PM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you trust your situational awareness and assessment of risk in other areas of your life, I'd be inclined to trust them here.

My own experience is that my coworkers' sense of what's dangerous and what isn't is that they're way off. (In my case, I think it's because most of them commute from the suburbs while I live here.)
posted by Lexica at 6:56 PM on December 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

My city has a long history of car break-ins and panhandlers, and for Reasons™, crime overall is up right now. Like you, I live in a state where it makes sense to assume that everyone is armed until proven otherwise.

I’ve watched various neighborhoods evolve in my time here, and seen various “trends” in the places women got attacked (and “precautions” they inevitably got blamed for failing to take, like just never going outside or being anywhere alone)...and I think you and your friend are both right.

Points of my analysis in no particular order:

First, a touchy one: panhandlers. Beggars aren’t necessarily more likely to be violent, of course, but I support any woman’s right not to trust strangers who approach her after dark asking for anything — directions, money, a date, the time, a survey response... (Hell, even in broad daylight, if someone tries to stop me when I’m walking with purpose somewhere, I immediately question their motives, because that’s why we have norms.)

Panhandlers in my town (perhaps adapting to our local political culture) tend to have long stories prepared explaining why They can’t believe they’re doing this, they’ve never had to ask for money before Or Don’t worry, they’re not homeless, just middle class and out of gas in a strange town. Again, I do not blame them for reading the room, it’s just business...but their need to deliver a preamble is contradictory to my goal of getting where I am going, and they are still dudes I don’t know making demands on my time, so I do not slow down. (Bad actors sometimes try to blend in among panhandlers; it’s like Where’s Waldo but less fun and more nefarious.)

If your panhandlers are like ours, you will indeed reduce your odds of getting approached/cornered by exiting a less-busy gym at that hour — assuming you time your exit when everyone else is leaving Workout Barn through its own crowded carpark. The Bugs Bunny tactic of guys popping up between parked cars all “Nyyyyyeah, what’s up, doc?” will also be less of a thing at your gym than down the road. Point: you.

Next: car break-ins. Again, my frame of reference is limited to who does it around here. Here, while “homeless and desperate for warmth” is a thing, “addicted and desperate for drug money” is more of a thing, and “young, middle-class, and bored” is more of a thing still. So, the crowdedness of the car park provides a target-rich environment, but potential witnesses are a better deterrent here — though only to the point that your prowlers are over 13 and have basic street smarts. You can partially gauge this by what tends to get stolen: Blankets? Laptops and purses? Useless stereo faceplates, worthless burned CDs, and loose quarters?

If the prowls suggest grownups with tragic priorities, the busier lot is safety-in-numbers, but if it’s just vengeful brats, all bets are off, no matter where you park or what’s in the car. Point: your friend, by a nose.

If you’re worried about other kinds of vandalism, the “just bored kids being shitty” logic mostly applies there too, though that holds truer for inscrutable graffiti tags (“Who is...D-Bag?”) than, say, hate-speech vandalism (which we all know by now could be Chad from Marketing OR Little Timmy, and of course either of them is equally as likely to be packing heat).

All of these tent-poles gather closer at the top, which is what women are REALLY being warned about when someone mentions “safety” — violent crime. (They MOSTLY mean sexual assault, but we can get robbed or beaten or carjacked as well, and here in Gunlandia, motive doesn’t always make much difference in the outcome. Anyway...) This is, of course, still more of a danger from our partners, exes, and guys we already know who think they DESERVE to be our partners, but since random-stranger attacks are more likely to make the news, we know SOME things about them.

For instance, I used to walk my central-business-district commute (3 miles round trip) and run a few evenings a week in a local urban park — often alone. Colleagues from the ‘burbs would gasp at the notion, because WHATTABOUT PERVERTS! Meanwhile, there had been a spate of random assaults on women who were trail runners. City runners got harassed plenty, but we had a triple-advantage over trail runners: witnesses, multiple escape routes, and surveillance (cameras, police, or both).

Still, that was City-vs-Mountains, and strip malls are a different beast. Pedestrians have LESS freedom than cars in those packed parking lots, it takes FOREVER to walk even a short distance because you’re forever yielding to oblivious drivers; that lack of visibility can only endanger you further. Likewise, though potential witnesses may be around, they’re mostly only looking out for other cars (if that!), and they may not even hear a struggle nearby. Likewise, dozens of cars around are no guarantee that a witness is.

Speaking of isolation and visibility, if a lot is CCTV-monitored and well-lit, with fewer blind spots, I’ll opt for that one over one that isn’t, even if it’s much more desolate or a longer walk door-to-car.

Which brings me back to the downside of picturesque trails: having only one way out if someone comes after you. The busier lot with more cars is much more like a mountain trail than a city park track, because as you mentioned, it’s easier for a bad actor to conceal himself, and your ability to change direction is severely limited. Your quieter, less-public lot might leave more room for a creep to hang out, but he has less camouflage, and you can be a moving target. Point: you.

Finally, your assessment of the clientele around the other gym seems sound to me. Point of consideration: gym staff are known for either quickly-handling or super-NOT-handling customers who intimidate other customers, as well.

Because sometimes the real bad guy is the “nice” guy who insists you’re not safe and he should walk you to your car, even though he’s made you uneasy all evening gawking at you in the wall mirror and unsolicitedly evaluating your “form.”

Your friend isn’t out-and-out wrong. Overall, though, I’d award more points to you on this one.
posted by armeowda at 8:23 PM on December 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's easy enough to look up crime statistics for a particular location/address. As they say, past performance is not a predictor of future performance, but if one or the other parking lots or general areas shows a higher crime incidence than the other, that's a reasonable answer to the question. And if neither winds up showing much/any crime over the past 6-12 months, then that's a good sign that your likelihood of experiencing a crime in either location is no higher than anywhere else that you might frequent.
posted by drlith at 8:58 PM on December 1, 2017

If you feel nervous can you ask a gym employee to escort you to your car?
posted by spitbull at 2:41 AM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Human brains do a terrible job of understanding crime and risk.
Crime happens to you when you and a person with criminal intent meet. That could literally be anywhere at anytime, no matter the cameras or lighting or what you are wearing, the type or car you drive or the number of people around.

We do our best to make informed decisions, to use our gut, streetmarts, logic, what have you but we really don't have that much control over what a random criminal decides to do that day.

I bet the statistics between the two places aren't that different if at all. Also due to profiling the sketchy area may just have more enforcement, which could show a higher crime rate but actually have the same amount of crime. You really don't know.

Park where it is convient and most comfortable for you . Do basic safety things, but don't spend to much time. Also don't be under the illusion that any single safety step actually keeps you safe, because 99 percent of the time it keeps you safe because there is not a criminal there wanting to commit a crime.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:22 AM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Call the police, ask them about about crime reports in and around that lot. They should have the information.
posted by theora55 at 8:51 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Neither a panhandler or a person who breaks into cars are likely to assault you. That’s not their goal and chances are that they’re not willing to risk a crime as serious as assault. Panhandling and breaking into an unattended car are misdemeanors, whereas aggravated assault can be a felony. A potential felony conviction can be a strong motivation to not assault.

I’d suggest parking as far away from the dumpster as you can or as close to the door as you can.

IMHO your friend is overreacting. I talk to homeless people/panhandlers frequently and offer them hugs. To be honest they’re mostly so scrawny that I don’t find them threatening at all.
posted by bendy at 9:28 PM on December 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

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