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In Recession, Security Firms Looking Secure

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Wal-Mart tragedy indicates their services are more necessary than ever.

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"Black Friday" took on an ominous new meaning last Friday in Long Island, NY, when an agitated mob of bargain-hunters broke down the front door of a Wal-Mart at 4:55 a.m. Jdimytai Damour, 34 -- a 270-pound part-time employee -- was "trampled to death."

Since the death of the much-beloved Mr. Damour (a cultured"Gentle Giant"), considerable energy has been spent attempting to identify the villains in this tragedy.

Villains may be hard to come by.

Wal-Mart (WMT) has a long history of questionable ethics (buying cheap goods made by malnourished children, busting unions, denying medical benefits and overtime pay to their employees, etc.) In fact, there's ongoing debate as to whether Wal-Mart has irreparably damaged the fabric of American life.

But surely even Wal-Mart`s fiercest critics wouldn`t accuse them of deliberately putting the lives of customers or employees in danger - if for no other reason than that it's bad for business.

For years, Wal-Mart has been offering these Thanksgiving "door crasher" sales without serious incident. The Long Island store hired extra security, but it clearly wasn't enough. They misjudged the mood of crowd.

What about the "crowd"? Are they to blame?

According to a crowd control expert:

"Crowd forces can reach levels that are almost impossible to resist or control. Virtually all crowd deaths are due to compressive asphyxia and not the 'trampling' reported by the news media. Evidence of bent steel railings after several fatal crowd incidents show that forces of more than 1,000 pounds occurred. Forces are due to pushing, and the domino effect of people leaning against each other."

So yes, the crowd is to blame.

But it would be a mistake to assume criminal wrongdoing by its individual members. Mobs impeded in their attempts to surge forward often turn deadly. There will be an inquest into Damour's death. Many questions will be asked. Was the front door "pushed open," as was reported - or did it buckle from the "domino effect"? Was Damour trampled callously or were the shoppers who ran over him just trying to flee from the crush of people behind them?

The lead investigator on the case, Detective Lieutenant Michael Fleming, has called the scene "utter chaos" and claimed that there weren't enough security guards.

As the recession deepens, and consumer anxiety rises, anomalies like the one that happened at Wal-Mart are going to become more common. Calm, confident people are generally more law-abiding than panicked, impoverished people.
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