There's been a lot of chatter in the RV world about rising crime in Walmart parking lots. Is it true or idle chatter? Here's what we've learned.
Walmart parking lots have served as temporary campsites for RVers for decades. The free overnight parking has saved many an RVer who couldn't find a spot at a nearby campground or just needed a place to rest on a long journey.
I'd be willing to bet that most avid RVers have stayed in a Walmart parking lot at least once. The convenience really comes in handy at times.
But are those quick and easy overnight stays turning into nights you need to sleep with one eye open? Is crime in Walmart parking lots increasing? Is a free night worth the risk of being attacked or robbed? That's what everyone's been asking.
Do All Walmarts Allow Overnight Parking?
No, not all Walmarts (or their city ordinances) allow overnight parking, but the majority do. That majority may decline, though, if problems continue to increase.
Walmart’s overnight parking policy is left to the discretion of each store manager. And Walmart does not keep a list of what stores participate and which do not. Your best bet is to call ahead and speak to the manager at the location you are trying to crash at.
There is even a humorous term used to describe camping at Walmart: Wallydocking! Jennifer and I love to boondock and have “Wallydocked” ourselves a few times.
Camping in Walmart parking lots was started by the founder of Walmart, Sam Walton. He wanted to provide a safe space for RVers to park at night when traveling.
He also knew that if he provided a free place to stay, travelers would shop at the store. Which, of course, they do!
It turns out, however, that staying overnight for free in a Walmart parking lot is a double-edged sword. While it can be a great way to save money while traveling a far distance, there are growing concerns about crime occurring at and around Walmart stores.
Sam Walton’s vision about having a safe place to stay overnight might not reflect his original vision.
Crime in Walmart Parking Lots
Across America, there is a significant level of crime occurring at Walmart. In fact, many police departments have reported over the past decade that they are overwhelmed with the calls that require them to go to Walmart. Criminals seemingly flock to the superstore.
Most of the crimes involve theft, like shoplifting. But there have been other more violent crimes as well, including assault, armed robbery, rape, and murder. Many of these crimes occur in Walmart parking lots.
If you google recent crimes in Walmart parking lots, the results are inundated with violent crimes. It seems there's a shift from petty theft towards violent crime and it is certainly concerning. But is that shift limited to Walmart?
Mike and Jennifer's RV Lifestyle hat collection
Who needs a hat? You do! Dad hats aren't just for dads. This comfy one's got a low profile with an adjustable strap and curved visor. Just the thing to wear on your next RV Lifestyle adventure.
Violent Crimes on the Rise
Violent crimes have been on the rise across the United States since 2020. What's interesting is the country's not experiencing a crime wave overall, but there's been a surge of violent behavior.
Between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate rose by 30%. That's the largest increase in the U.S. murder rate since at least 1905, if not ever. The rate of aggravated assault also rose nearly 12% in the same year.
So, crimes in Walmart parking lots may in fact be on the rise, but it's very possibly more of a national issue than a Walmart issue. However, these violent incidents sure do seem to be happening more at Walmart than, say, Target parking lots.
Why Is There More Crime at Walmart?
There are a few theories as to why there is more crime occurring at Walmart than at other retail stores.
First, Walmart stores are usually located in areas that have a higher crime rate on average than other neighborhoods. In other words, there are more desperate people in the area where the stores are located.
Another reason that Walmart attracts criminals is the store’s hours of operation. Locations that are open 24 hours tend to attract the types of people that participate in illicit activity.
Another reason for the uptick in Walmart crime may rest on the shoulders of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lee Scott that took on that role beginning in the year 2000. He began to aggressively cut costs across the stores, resulting in 400,000 fewer workers across America.
While those cuts saved money during a time that the retail giant’s sales grew by 23%, crime also started to increase. There was less security and employee presence across the board.
Did the cutbacks send the message to criminals that no one was watching what they were up to?
However, new CEO Doug McMillon began in 2014 and started to implement programs to improve stores. He focused on cutting shoplifting. However, many theorists see a correlation between cutting petty crime and less violent crime.
Although changes have been implemented, police departments still see more crime at Walmart than other similar businesses.
Finally, Walmart parking lots may attract people that cannot afford to stay elsewhere. Since you do not have to pay to stay overnight, many people that are down and out on their luck will choose to stay there. That also means they may be more desperate in their life’s circumstances and may make poor decisions regarding illegal activity.
What Does That Mean for Overnight RVers?
Unfortunately, the rise in violent activity is making local authorities and local Walmart management rethink their free overnight parking policy. More and more cities and Walmarts are shutting it down. Just like boondocking sites getting shut down, the bad apples are spoiling it for the rest of us.
Hopefully, these things will calm down but what do we do in the meantime? Should we give up staying at Walmart?
First and foremost, we all need to use our best judgment and trust our guts when it comes to staying anywhere, not just Walmarts. If nefarious sorts seem to be lurking about, keep driving.
Here are more tips to help keep you safe:
- Check local crime rates, as they are a good reflection of what to expect at the local Walmart
- Park in a well-lit area of the parking lot if possible and allowed (Walmart designates overnight parking ares)
- Keep all doors and windows locked, and perhaps blinds and shades, too
- Never open the door to a stranger (talk through the door if you must)
- Always be willing to get up and drive away if you ever feel unsafe
- Trust your gut!
So, my friends, my advice is to be watchful but not fearful. Be aware of your surroundings and be willing to move on if something doesn't feel right. Let's continue hoping the crime will decline across our country and we can continue to benefit from Walmart's free overnight parking.
Have You Witnessed Crime in Walmart Parking Lots?
Please share your experiences in the comments below. The best way to gauge the danger is to hear from fellow RVers. Thanks so much! If you are part of our Facebook Group you can see their experiences right here.
Interested in Boondocking?
Want to learn how to boondock?
We created a PRINT version of our most popular guide to help you with the most common boondocking problems. We get a ton of questions from our subscribers about how to get started boondocking that range from where to go and wild animals to water conservation to what equipment to use and more.
Throw off the shackles of traditional RV Parks and campgrounds, stop paying high fees every night that you spend in your RV, and experience the boundless amounts of nature while boondocking!
You’re done with the noisy RV parks, the 3.5 feet of room you have squished in between two other RVs, and other people’s kids running through your campsite?
You’ve ditched the hookups, the concrete blocks and have replaced them with self-leveling and Navy showers?