Forty percent of violent crime occurs in parking lots, and that’s where we place a lot of our attention as well,” said Jim Sawyer, Director of Security Services at Seattle Children’s Hospital, at the Security one2one Summer Summit in June. In fact, more than 110,000 property crimes occurred every year in commercial parking lots and garages between 2004 and 2008, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Between 1999 and early 2014, there were 792 total deadly force incidents at faith-based organizations in the United States, according to ministry violence researcher Carl Chinn. In 2012 alone, 135 deadly force incidents occurred on religious organization property, and 39 of these resulted in loss of life.

Inevitably, this crime can spill over into church parking lots and garages, which is definitely an area that Paul Guerra, Operations and Security Director at Woodlands Church, is placing a lot of attention as well.

Woodlands Church has three campuses in the suburbs around Houston, Texas, averaging 18,000 total attendees between them every weekend, and up to 50,000 visitors on major religious holidays. Guerra worked with TOTUS Solutions to add or improve lighting with LED lighting technology to boost surveillance and deter crime.

“We’re always trying to be on the forefront of prevention, not just response,” Guerra says. “We have a lot of assets to protect, including our employees, worshippers, electronics and other expensive items.”

Adding strategic lighting to parking lots makes it more difficult for criminals to lurk undetected in the area, Guerra says. The high-performance lighting from TOTUS also makes accurate recording of details – shirt color, license plate numbers or vehicle details – much easier to capture.

“We have uniformed and plain-clothes security officers on our campuses, and they have access to the 360-degree high-resolution, high-definition IP cameras, even on smartphones, tablets or computers,” Guerra says. “We added LED lighting to the cameras, so when movement is detected, the lights turn on (inevitably causing intruders to look at the cameras), and our officers can instantly connect via IP to real-time video and speak to the individual through the camera. This active deterrence was a big factor in us investing in the system.”

The officers can also use the real-time video access to explain to a law enforcement dispatcher exactly what is happening on the church campus, describing vehicles and trespassers.

According to Marcus Moreno, Director of Business Development for Florida-based security integration company ATC International, technology is becoming more and more suited to efficient security systems based around prevention and deterrence, which could mitigate the risks of those property crimes taking place.

For example, a multi-level commercial parking garage in Miami Beach deployed Talkaphone call boxes and Video Insight HD video surveillance as a force multiplier. Hiring security officers to continually man and patrol the garage was cost-prohibitive, but by maximizing audio capabilities and using the PA system in the garage, officers in a centralized location could proactively and remotely secure the building.

Moreno explained that the dispatch officer might see a person wandering through the garage looking at cars on each floor. The officer can talk over the speakers to instruct the person to go to a call box if they need assistance. The person might have just forgotten where they parked, or they might be scoping out vehicles for more nefarious purposes, but the system enables officers to provide both security and customer service at a lower price point.

Virtualized systems through IP technology means that infrastructure costs are dropping, especially compared with a decade ago. Previously, if an end user had wanted to tie in surveillance, lighting, speakers and call boxes to a single monitoring platform, it would have to have been hard-wired together, costing the enterprise large integration and installation fees, Moreno explains. Now, IP systems are often built to work with other network-based security technology, opening many doors for security directors without slamming down on their budgets.

The key to gaining the full benefits of your security system is getting in early, Moreno says. If security can introduce plans for parking security technology before construction starts on a structure, the department can save up to 40 percent on infrastructure. However, if a retrofit is necessary, he recommends that enterprise security directors conduct careful investigations into what infrastructure is already present, in terms of electric access especially, in order to maximize dollars saved.

In addition, adding cost-effective lighting can reap benefits in other ways – Guerra worked closely with TOTUS for a return on investment (ROI) analysis before the installation. Together, they uncovered energy credits and rebates that Woodlands Church could receive for adding more LED-based lighting technology, as well as up to a 70-percent reduction in energy costs for replacing existing lighting with LEDs.

“As a place of worship, we have to weigh our visitors’ experience with security,” says Guerra. “We often have an older population, and they feel more secure with better lighting and more security.” During busy services, such as Christmas or Easter, Guerra plans on utilizing the surveillance on-campus to help direct traffic flow and assist visitors in finding open parking.

He can also use the surveillance system to investigate potential slip-and-fall incidents or vehicle accidents on church property.

“Our staff has been very interested in the details of the system, so I carry my iPad around campus to show off different scenarios and capabilities, which makes them feel safer,” Guerra adds. “For our worshippers, they’re often not aware that the security measures are even there – they’re more aware of our security officers patrolling the grounds. It’s an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation, but having a combination of video, lighting and patrols helps us optimize security and safety in our parking lots.”

Want toLearnMore?

Check out the Parking Security companies featured in this article:

  • ATC International
  • Talkaphone
  • TOTUS Solutions 
  • Video Insight