MARQUETTE - Shoppers won't be the only people taking advantage of Christmas-season sales.
Thieves will, too.
The Marquette County Sheriff's Office reminds shoppers to exercise caution during the holiday shopping season, particularly on the busiest shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving - "Black Friday."
Bargain shoppers pack the aisles as they fill their carts with early bird sale specials at Kohl's Department Store during Black Friday last November. (Journal file photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)
In addition, shoppers should keep in mind that this crush of humanity when sales open in the early morning hours has proven to be dangerous in recent years.
But while the threat made by overanxious shoppers is apparent, thieves will do everything they can to make themselves blend into the crowd, according to sheriff's officials.
Crowded parking lots and busy stores give thieves the chance to elude detection. So the sheriff's office recommends customers not only lock their vehicles, but secure items out of sight of these "window shoppers."
Inside stores, the sheriff's office recommends that shoppers stay aware of keeping their handbags and purses secure, never leaving them unattended. The most secure kind of purse is a harness-type worn over your body, preferably small and compact with a sturdy strap.
The sheriff's office also reminds shoppers that it's much easier for a perpetrator to blend in and disappear away from surveillance cameras in a crowded store.
Finally, the sheriff's office also recommends keeping your driver's license and credit cards in one pocket and putting cash in a different pocket.
The threat of unruly crowds turned deadly on Black Friday last year on New York's Long Island. A stampede proved fatal at a Wal-Mart when 2,000 shoppers broke down the front door and trampled an employee to death.
Three other people received minor injuries in the incident, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was knocked to the ground, Nassau County police reported.
Closer to home, in 2005, a pregnant woman from downstate Grand Rapids was injured when a Black Friday crowd pushed its way in when a retailer first opened its doors that morning.
Local management of national retailers want to prevent incidents like these from happening.
"We've gone through a lot of scenarios and thinking about strategy to take," said Steve McCoy, a manager at the Marquette Township Target store, where the doors open at 5 a.m. Friday.
"Several staff members, including myself, will work with the crowds in the parking lot before we open to answer questions and check for any problems," McCoy said. "Inside, we have multiple cameras set up, and some extra security, along with more team members to keep track of things."
While local Wal-Mart representatives weren't permitted to answer any questions about Black Friday safety, the company issued a statement at a location on its Web site, www.walmartstores.com/thanksgivinginfo:
"Customer and associate safety is always a top priority for us. This holiday season is no exception," the statement reads. "Store-specific plans for all Walmart U.S. locations were developed in consultation with leading safety experts in the sports and entertainment industries."
"Each plan addresses three areas - customer approach and entry into the store, customer flow throughout the store and around promotional merchandise, and flow through the checkout aisles and away from the store."
While specials start at 5 a.m. Black Friday, the stores will remain open 24 hours a day throughout the long holiday weekend.
Nevertheless, some state lawmakers are pushing for Michigan to require shopper and employee protection policies to prevent injuries and deaths when shoppers flood into a store.?
A bill by Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton Township, would require large retailers to implement safety and security measures for special sales, such as when they offer low prices on high-demand items in limited quantities for 72 hours or less. That would apply to Black Friday, when many of the best bargains of the Christmas are offered to lure in shoppers.
"It's to make sure shoppers and employees are safe," Slavens said. "If they're worried, retailers should be working on this. If their stores are safe, it's not an issue."
Under her bill, safety and security measures would include customer waiting areas outside the store, designated areas for the hottest items and posting of store policies and shopping procedures.?
The bill is pending in the House Commerce Committee.