KENNEWICK -- Shoppers making plans to snap up Black Friday deals need to add another thing to their to-do list before hitting the stores: shopping safety.
Dealing with crowds on the day after Thanksgiving can be a harrowing experience, but a little preparedness can help shoppers avoid becoming victims of thefts or other crimes, officials say.
Mike Blatman, Kennewick police's crime prevention specialist, said the first things shoppers need is "situational awareness."
Just like when people check for emergency exits when they get on an airplane or go to a hotel, shoppers need to be aware of what's going on around them, he said.
"Be prepared when you're shopping, and don't let your guard down," Blatman said. "Always have you're keys in your hand (when walking to your car), look around and pay attention to people wandering aimlessly."
Shoppers also should not make themselves more vulnerable by being overloaded with packages as they head to their vehicles, he said.
Bags of newly purchased goods also should not be left in plain sight -- they should be put in the trunk or taken home before shoppers move on to the next store.
"Don't think that there aren't bad guys out there that are out doing their Christmas shopping in the parking lot," Blatman said.
Shoppers walking through parking lots who see someone watching them also should call police or report the suspicious person to store security. Blatman said it's not an inconvenience for officers to check on something suspicious.
"If your instincts tell you something is wrong, trust your instincts," he said. "That's your fight or flight survival response."
Shoppers also should try to carry minimal cash and credit cards with them. Women never should leave their purses unattended in a cart -- it takes just a second for a thief to snatch the purse or reach inside to grab a wallet, he said.
Also, when a credit or debit card is taken out to make a purchase, make sure it goes back in the wallet and is not left behind on the counter.
"If (a thief) takes it, they're going to use it within the first 30 minutes," Blatman said.
Shoppers waiting to hit the stores at night hoping for sparse crowds also are reminded to park in well-lit areas and as close to the stores as possible.
Online shoppers also are encouraged to shop with companies they know and trust, check a company's background if they are not familiar with it and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
All receipts and online purchase confirmations also should be saved and verified against credit card or bank statements when they come in.
As for those shoppers planning to line up in the middle of the night or early Friday to be first for those Black Friday deals, Blatman's advice is "dress warm."
The National Weather Service has predicted a low around 22 degrees for the Tri-Cities tonight, with a chance of snow and freezing rain.
Snow and freezing rain also is in the forecast until 10 a.m. Friday, with a high near 36.
Blatman also said it's not worth fighting over a parking spot or that last must-have holiday toy or gadget. Just count to 10 before reacting, and Blatman said to repeat this saying: "I don't mind because you don't matter."
But, regardless when shoppers plan to hit the stores, Blatman offers one last bit of advice: "It's the holidays, there's a reason for the season. You should spread that holiday cheer."
* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org