Police gear up for crowd control around area shops

As area stores prepare for a onslaught of shoppers, local police also are gearing up for Black Friday and any problems the crowds may bring.

“We have extra officers out, especially around the time when stores first open,” said Allegheny Township Police Chief P. Richard Books. “We try to keep a presence in the retail areas.”

Books said Plank Road Commons, the home of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, as well as Sierra North Plaza, anchored by Target, are the two major shopping centers in the township. Overall, there haven’t been many problems over the years with shoppers, save for some disputes between individuals here and there, plus the fender benders that come with the heavier traffic.

“Our presence is more for crowd control if things do heat up a little bit,” Books said, adding that many people are waiting in line for hours in the cold. Books said officers try to interact with shoppers, joking with them, asking them about what they’re hoping to buy.

“Target has their opening down to a science,” Books said.

Randy Hickox, Target’s store team leader, said the store has had a crowd management plan in place for a long time and said it is tweaked from year to year if needed. So far, the store’s not had any major problems on Black Friday, and Hickox said he didn’t expect any difference this year by opening Thanksgiving night.

The police he said, have always been helpful and responsive if needed.

“We have a great partnership with law enforcement in the area,” Hickox said. “They help us and we help them.”

In Logan Township in 2009, unruly shoppers waiting to get in Toys R Us caused a disturbance prompting a call to police. Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller recalled that some shoppers decided to form a second line Thanksgiving evening in anticipation of the store’s opening.

This year, stores are opening even earlier, meaning the department had to adjust its schedule to accommodate, Heller said.

“It kind of creates issues on what is normally a festive holiday for everyone,” said Heller. “We’ll have to make sure we have people on duty. It’s that time of year, and we’ve got issues – traffic, disorderlies – that we’ll have to deal with.”

Heller said shoppers should keep the crowds in mind when planning their day and take their time while driving. Books added shoppers should also keep their vehicles locked and keep purchases hidden from view.

“There are people out there who like to shop in various ways,” Books said. Ladies carrying purses might also want to consider only carrying only the credit cards and items they need, keeping other cards and credentials at home just in case their bag is lost or stolen in the chaos.

Still, police point out the majority of shoppers aren’t the problem.

“By and large, most of the people out shopping are having fun,” Heller noted. “We always have an individual that has to ruin it.”