Bad Economy, Dangerous Holiday Shopping

Pressures facing consumers may contribute to an uptick in violence at stores.

ByABC News
December 1, 2008, 7:09 PM

Dec. 2, 2008 — -- For shoppers concerned about their safety, this season has brought news both good and bad. The good news is that, as in years past, retailers have beefed up security to supervise large crowds seeking cut-rate holiday deals.

The bad news: In the past four days, America's retail stores and malls have seen several shootings and the trampling to death of a man caught in a stampede of overeager shoppers.

Security expert Ralph Witherspoon said the worst might not be over yet, which is due, in part, to today's slumping economy.

"People are out of jobs, and they still want to do something for their families for Christmas," he said.

The pressures facing today's consumers, he said, might contribute to an uptick in crime and violence at stores.

Lt. Kevin Smith, the commanding officer of the police department's public information office in Nassau County, N.Y. -- where the Wal-Mart temp was trampled to death Friday -- said shoppers "are trying to compensate for their lack of income by making sure that they get in and get in first. ... The stores are getting a larger volume of people over a short period of time.

"The problem is controlling those crowds," he said.

According to the National Retail Federation, at least one kind of crime -- shoplifting -- is on the rise.

Of the more than 100 retail executives surveyed by the federation in October, 74 percent reported an increase in shoplifting.

"We do feel the economy is a trigger for someone taking an opportunity to commit a crime that they otherwise would not think about," said Joseph LaRocca, the vice president of loss prevention at the federation.

The federation has also acknowledged the violent incidents that left a disturbing mark this year on the weekend of Black Friday, the kickoff to the holiday shopping season when retailers traditionally are in the black, or turn a profit.

In addition to the Friday morning stampede that led to the Wal-Mart worker's death, there was a spate of shootings: Two men shot each other to death at a Toys "R" Us store in Palm Desert, Calif., Friday; a pregnant woman was injured in a shooting at an Atlanta mall Saturday and armed robbers killed one man at an Express store in a suburban Miami mall Monday.