Dimly lit parking lots aren’t just a backdrop for spooky movie scenes.
Darkness is real in parking lots across the country. And so do the crimes and the dangers that come with it.
This has been the case for decades, even though recent FBI data shows parking lots – in hospitals, hotels, or downtown offices – are the third most common site of homicides, assaults, and other serious crimes.
Why did darkness prevail?
One answer is buried deep in obscure international building code guidelines, in a section that indicates whether buildings are “occupied.” Even though hundreds of people can use the parking structures 24/7, they are classified as “storage” spaces.
Other responses play on the seriousness with which regulators, lawmakers and parking lot owners take responsibility for providing a safe space for visitors and employees who use the structures.
RELATED: A nurse survived a brutal attack in the parking lot of a Chicago hospital. Decades later, she still feels the pain and trauma.
In Milwaukee, at least two aldermen hope to tackle the problem at the municipal level where lighting plans are being implemented without review by regulators and authorities say they now have limited ability to enforce city codes. parking areas.
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation published last month revealed how hospitals, especially across the country, fail to adequately protect employees from parking lot violence, choosing not to monitor cameras, improving the ‘lighting and patrolling, or offering employees convenient escorts to their cars during the tour. – the clock is changing.
Last year, nurse practitioner Carlie Beaudin was beaten to death in a parking lot at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa after completing her shift.
As recently as last week, a doctor in Edina, Minnesota was shot in the head during an attempted robbery in the parking lot of the hospital where he worked.
The Journal Sentinel hired a safety consultant to assess eight parking structures at five hospitals around Milwaukee. The consultant’s spot checks revealed serious security deficiencies and unsafe lighting in every location.
“If they don’t want to provide more lighting, they can opt out of the business,” Ald said. Bob Bauman referring to owners of parking garages. “It comes down to the economy. They would rather settle multi-million dollar lawsuits largely paid for by insurance companies rather than endure day-to-day increases in their operating budgets. “
Froedtert Hospital reached an out-of-court settlement in November with Nick Beaudin, Carlie’s husband of nine years, for an undisclosed sum.
Certain security measures in parking structures – from better lighting to the presence of on-site parking attendants and frequent patrols – could be enforced through licensing requirements, Bauman said.
In 2018, the Common Council passed a law revising the licensing of downtown parking structures, requiring all owners to submit a police-approved safety plan and – if they have more than two incidents of parking. security per month – to implement additional security measures such as improved lighting, video surveillance and other actions directed by the Milwaukee Police Department.
“The Medical College of Wisconsin might solve their problem tomorrow: hire 50 people to patrol the area on foot, by bike on Segways, you name it,” Bauman said.
As for lighting, Bauman and Ald. Legislation co-sponsored by Nik Kovac was introduced on Tuesday to address gaps that have created confusion over lighting requirements and could also force the city to start inspecting lighting plans before construction, Kovac said. at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Mayor Tom Barrett is aware of the problems, according to his spokesperson, Jodie Tabak. “As issues arise, we will respond appropriately,” Tabak said in an email response to questions from Journal Sentinel.
One of the reasons authorities struggle to enforce better lighting rules stems from an International Building Code directive that cities often include in their own city codes. It classifies parking structures as “storage” facilities.
Some developers, planners, and garage owners argue that this means they don’t need to adhere to higher artificial lighting requirements for spaces people use.
Occupied buildings should have an average of 10 foot candles of light, according to the International Building Code. The Arcane Sound Foot Candle is the amount of light equivalent to what a candle would illuminate in an area of 1 square foot. The light level inside most large grocery stores, for example, is about 30 foot candles. Movie theaters register approximately 0.5 to 1 when darkened during screenings.
Other city regulators and some members of the International Code Council say that when you park your car in a structure and walk to and from a building, you are occupying the structure and it should follow general lighting guidelines. interior.
Still others, including town planners in Milwaukee, say the issue is not so much whether the structure is occupied, but rather whether the structure is closed, like the underground parking ramp where Beaudin was beaten. to death.
Closed structures are interiors and must meet the average standard of 10 foot candle, said David Rhodes, building and building inspection supervisor in the City of Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Services Department.
During a spot check in May 2019, the consultant hired by Journal Sentinel found light readings ranging from 4 to 6.5 foot candles in the area of the Froedtert hospital garage where Beaudin was killed. Surveillance video showed her killer prowled the hospital and garage for more than two hours before Beaudin drove to his car after finishing his shift around 1 a.m. – but no one was watching the cameras .
Rhodes said that “open” garages – those with outside air between floors – are not subject to indoor artificial lighting standards because they let in natural light.
But what about at night?
As it stands, nothing requires that open garages have more than the mandatory one-foot candle in fire codes to find emergency doors, even in the dark of night, a he declared.
“At the moment we have codes that don’t get you closer to what you would like from a security standpoint,” he said.
“It is an emergency rescue device”
Kimberly Paarlberg, senior architect at the International Code Council, stressed that building codes are a bare minimum. Designers and builders can – and often should – go beyond guidelines, she said.
“The guidelines are not intended to protect people from assault,” Paarlberg said. “The building code doesn’t assume a bad guy is there.”
Codes aren’t the only problem behind poor lighting. In Milwaukee, code enforcement supervisors say they’re not allowed to inspect parking lots for light levels or anything else – unless someone drops off a car first. complaint.
Unlike restaurants, which city officials inspect annually, the city does not have the staff to inspect every garage, said Mike Mannan, building code enforcement manager for commercial properties for the City of Milwaukee.
“Every inspection is like a search,” he said. “We cannot search illegally. We need a complaint.
Thomas Smith, healthcare safety consultant, said safety really comes down to the priority choices made by parking structure owners. They often choose to spend more time and money on landscaping and aesthetics than on safe lighting and security, he said.
Each of the hundreds of hospital parking structures Smith assessed has a percentage of burnt out bulbs and blue light emergency phones that don’t work, he said.
“I always say, ‘Which of you wouldn’t take care of your defibrillator properly? “It is what it is,” he said.
“It’s an emergency rescue device. “
To make a lighting or code complaint about a parking lot in Milwaukee, notify the Commercial Code Enforcement Division of the Department of Neighborhood Services through the complaint line at (414) 286-2268; or use the Click for the action portal: https://city.milwaukee.gov/ucc/action; or complain through a smart phone using an app called the MKE mobile action app where you can also submit photos. Instructions on how to download are here: https://city.milwaukee.gov/ucc/mkemobile.
Read the survey
To read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s In the Shadows survey of violence and lax parking lot security, visit jsonline.com/intheshadows.