May 27, 2024

Auburn considers law to avoid shopping melees

AUBURN – City officials are considering whether Auburn needs an ordinance requiring stores to take measures to assure crowd control after an episode outside the local Wal-Mart on “Black Friday,” the shopping day after Thanksgiving.

A police officer and store workers said 1,000 to 1,500 shoppers crowded the store’s entrance before the doors opened at 5 a.m.

Jason Thompson, a Greenwood firefighter, says shoppers were surging forward and pushing on the door. “People could have gotten trampled very easily,” he said.

In the end, no shoppers or employees were hurt, but a Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled in Valley Stream, N.Y., in a similar melee involving 2,000 shoppers.

In Auburn, there were no crowd control, no order and no barricades, and the only officer at the scene was one who happened by on his beat, said Police Chief Phil Crowell. Last year Wal-Mart hired two off-duty police officers for security, but it did not do so this year, the chief said.

Jessica Thistle of Auburn was one of the shoppers at the Wal-Mart for its Black Friday opening. She went with friends who wanted a 50-inch television for a discounted $800. The store had a limited number of the TVs, which sold out within 20 minutes.

When the doors opened “it was like a rock concert,” Thistle said. People were pushing. She described it as a “mad dash.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said by e-mail that “we carefully consider the number and the quality of our security and crime prevention measures.”

“We are working closely with law enforcement agencies in the communities we serve to ensure we can continue to provide a comfortable and safe shopping environment for both our customers and our associates,” he told the Sun Journal newspaper.

Auburn stores don’t have a legal responsibility to provide crowd control, but they should take precautions to ensure patrons are safe, police said.

“When you have a plan that ensures order and people have to line up, people comply,” Crowell said. “When you don’t have that they can go ahead and cut.” An unsafe situation can escalate quickly, Crowell said.

Auburn officials will discuss whether the city needs an ordinance requiring stores to take crowd control precautions during mass gatherings before stores open, Crowell said. A mass gathering is defined as 500 or more people.

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