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Wrentham debates end to ‘Midnight Madness’ at mall

Shoppers turned out for “Midnight Madness” in Wrentham in 2006. Local police have pushed for security cameras.

Wiqan Ang/Globe file photo

Shoppers turned out for “Midnight Madness” in Wrentham in 2006. Local police have pushed for security cameras.

Wrentham officials are debating whether to turn the lights out on “Midnight Madness” — the frenzied day-after-Thanksgiving all-night shopping extravaganza at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets.

Planning Board members will meet Wednesday night to discuss whether to revoke the mall’s permission to open early on Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season.

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The town and the mall have been unable to resolve a dispute over installing security cameras at the outlets. Local police have pushed for the cameras — citing massive Midnight Madness crowds, as well as crimes like shoplifting and armed robbery that have occurred at the mall other times of the year.

“Unfortunately, the Wrentham Premium Outlet Mall attracts criminals with lengthy records of serious crime, including gang members,’’ Police Chief James Anderson wrote in a letter to the Planning Board chairman earlier this month.

But mall officials have resisted, telling town officials that past Midnight Madness events have been mostly incident-free, and arguing that the issue of whether to install cameras should be separate from whether the mall is allowed to open early on the day after Thanksgiving.

At a meeting earlier this month, mall officials agreed to install 10 security cameras, but only on the condition that the town be responsible for maintaining the cameras. Mall officials also asked for the mall’s permit to be amended so as not to require yearly approval for the early Black Friday opening, according to minutes from the meeting.

“We think that’s unacceptable,” said Wrentham Police Detective Lieutenant William McGrath.

‘Unfortunately, the Wrentham Premium Outlet Mall attracts criminals with lengthy records of serious crime.’

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Paige Duncan, Wrentham’s planner, said discussions about the cameras began in January. “It’s too bad after nine months that it’s coming down to the 11th hour,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the mall, which is owned by Simon Property Group, said she could not comment until after the meeting.

McGrath said the day after Thanksgiving is “the busiest day of the year, by far” for the outlets. “It’s a big deal for them,” McGrath said. “The town doesn’t want it to not happen. We’re just interested in a level of public safety that we think is acceptable.”

McGrath said local police want the cameras both to manage day-to-day criminal investigations at the mall and to provide better security for the Midnight Madness event. Police respond to several calls a day on the weekend at the mall and several more throughout the week, and they don’t currently have surveillance footage — which McGrath called “an industry-standard tool” — to help them solve crimes.

Most calls to the mall are for shoplifting, McGrath said, although more serious crimes such as armed robbery and abductions have also occurred.

McGrath acknowledged that last year’s Midnight Madness event was “relatively incident-free,” but said the large crowds make the outlets a potential soft target for terrorists.

“Just because nothing happened yesterday doesn’t mean nothing’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said.

A lawyer for the mall told Planning Board members in September that no other Simon malls have security cameras and that placing them in Wrentham “would set precedent,” according to meeting minutes.

Peter Preston, a member of a Wrentham neighborhood group, wrote to the Planning Board expressing hope that the situation would be resolved.

“Although traffic can be difficult, the thought of turning potential customers away may create a worse traffic nightmare with no place to park and no surveillance to monitor them in and around our front yards,” Preston wrote.

McGrath said that police may drop their objection to Midnight Madness going on without cameras this year, if the mall agrees to put cameras in place in the near future.

“If there was a firm commitment to the cameras and the conditions, then I don’t think everything hinges on them being in by this event,” McGrath said. “We’re trying to plan public safety for the future, and with deadlines.”

Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com.
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