The flaw of Hillsborough’s ‘Safe Place’
By Breanne Williams, The Oracle
Police departments have struggled for years to alleviate the dangers that come with online shopping, and many have resorted to creating “safety zones” for users to safely exchange cash for goods.
College students often use sites such as Craigslist, eBay and campus-specific groups such as the USF Bulls Online Marketplace on Facebook to make purchases. Trying to survive off of minimum wage jobs while taking a full-time course load has caused many students to heavily rely on thrift sites.
Unfortunately, not everyone is honest online. In just the past year, Tampa has seen many cases of robbery and violence, which led to the creation of “Safe Places” — areas around the Bay designated for safe exchanges.
There are four locations in Hillsborough, all at a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Patrol District parking lot, but there is not a designated space at the location for the interactions to take place.
Dade City Police Chief Ray Velboom saw the flaw in Hillsborough and other counties’ idea and went one step further when creating a safety zone for Dade City. According to The Tampa Tribune, Velboom set aside two parking spaces in the police department’s parking lot that will have good lighting and 24-hour video surveillance.
“The reason we designated these spaces is because those are areas that would be caught on camera well,” Brian Uppercue, the department’s spokesman, told The Tampa Tribune. “If folks go to other parking lots or other police stations, they may not be picked up on surveillance.”
Hillsborough should adopt Dade City’s policy and set aside spaces for these exchanges. Knowing there is surveillance will hopefully dissuade wrongdoers from attempting to scam customers.
If they do, at least it will be caught on camera so they can easily be prosecuted.
Having safety zones will allow people to safely purchase and sell goods without having to fear being robbed or taken advantage of.
With stories such as the Georgia couple that was robbed and murdered by a Craigslist seller — along with the other 45 Craigslist-related murders since 2009 — it’s no wonder police are seeking safer methods for the transactions.
It goes without saying one should never go alone, go without a cell phone or go to an isolated location when meeting a stranger to pick up an item. Still, many of the crimes have happened in broad daylight and in a busy location.
That’s why the monitoring of safety zones is so important. Now students and all members of the community can safely meet to get cheap goods. You don’t have to worry about risking harm when purchasing a new cell phone or couch.
If someone is selling something stolen or is planning to pull a quick one on his buyer, he will not want to meet at a police station to do the exchange, especially if that area is under constant video surveillance.
Safety zones are a simple solution to a growing problem in the community. Dade City found a way to reduce the dangers that come with interacting with strangers. Hillsborough would be wise to follow in its footsteps and set aside parking spaces specifically for these types of activities to keep the general public as safe as possible.
Delta Twp., Lansing, MI - If you've ever met up with a stranger to make a Craigslist sale, you've probably felt those pre-sale jitters. Now, you have a safer option.
There's a new "E-Commerce Zone" parking lot in Delta Township that's upping security.
"We want you to be safe and this is the safest alternative right now," says Eaton County Sheriff Lt. Mark Wriggelsworth.
The zone is relatively small, it's the front parking lot of the Eaton County Sheriff's Delta Patrol Station near Canal Road and West Saginaw Highway.
It's well-lit and equipped with 24-hour surveillance cameras that are motion sensitive.
"You never know who you are going to meet," says Lt. Wriggelsworth, "and I think we, a lot of people, have made transactions not knowing who they are going to meet."
For Delta Township, not only is it a way to keep people safe, it's a cheap, simple plan to keep up with the times.
"That's why we established this E-Commerce Zone because, as more people engage in Internet commerce, we wanted to make sure that they are well protected," says Delta Township's Supervisor Ken Fletcher.
Following a string of robberies associated with online purchases through Craigslist and other web sites, the Metropolitan Police Department is allowing residents to conduct hopefully more-secure transactions at three police stations across D.C.
"Several individuals in the District have been targeted after using mobile marketplace applications to buy or sell items," an MPD release explains. "Suspects have used these online platforms to lure victims to meet them at locations to purchase or sell an item and when the victim arrives, a pre-staged robbery occurs."
According to MPD, the three exchange zones will be located at:
All sales final: Cities provide e-commerce zones to thwart crime
John Bacon, USA TODAY4:02 p.m. EDT April 21, 2016
The last straw in Boca Raton, Fla., was when someone sold a MacBook Pro on Craigslist and met the prospective buyer inside a Barnes & Noble, only to have the suspect snatch the computer and run out of the store.
"They did everything we ask people to do when exchanging goods after an online sale," police spokesman Mark Economou said. "Public place, well lit, a safe place. And still a crime was committed."
Police made an arrest in the case. They also announced the opening of the police station lobby and parking lot for property sales and exchanges. No questions asked. Chief Daniel Alexander figured that someone planning a crime is a lot less likely to commit one at police headquarters.
"We invite you to do your deal (legal, that is) at our place," Chief Daniel Alexander said in a blog that wrapped with a recurring, iconic line from the 1980s cop show Hill Street Blues. "Let’s be careful out there."
Boca Raton learned its lesson 18 months ago. On Thursday, Washington, D.C., joined the growing list of cites providing e-commerce safe zones designed to curb the crime that can occur when closing an online deal. The city unveiled three "Exchange Zone" areas, well-lit and near police stations, "giving Washingtonians a safe place to purchase or exchange property," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
The crimes the zones target can be more serious than theft. Advanced Interactive Media Group (AIM), an industry watchdog, says more than 100 murders have taken place through Craigslist connections.
The most notorious case involved Boston University medical student Philip Markoff, dubbed "the Craigslist killer," who was accused of murdering a woman who offered massage services on the site. Markoff, also accused of robbing two other women, committed suicide in his cell in 2010 while awaiting trial.
Scores of police departments now provide some type of safe zone. AIM operates a website, safetradestations.com, that provides safe locations for e-commerce exchanges across the nation.
Craigslist says its transactions are safe, that the number of thefts and violent crime are minuscule compared to the number of transactions made every day. But it does have a safety page suggesting, among other things, that buyers and sellers "insist on a public meeting place like a cafe, bank, or shopping center. Do not meet in a secluded place, or invite strangers into your home."
In North Miami, Fla., where a man was fatally shot in 2009 while selling a Rolex in an online deal gone bad, police have designated two parking spots for transactions. InHartford, Conn., "Operation Safe Lot" welcomes dealmakers to a parking lot in front police headquarters. Hartford has its own Craigslist murder case; police say a man was killed in 2013 while selling computer tablets.
"That case was a main driving point in putting this together," Assistant Chief Brian Foley said. "I can tell you that our Craigslist robberies have virtually dropped off the face of the earth."
Delta Township, Mich., posted "E-Commerce Exchange Zone" signs in the parking lot of the sheriff's office this week. Supervisor Ken Fletcher says they haven't had much of a problem with transaction crimes, but "for a couple hundred bucks of signage it's worth it."
In Overland Park, Kan., police spokesman Richard Breshears said the headquarters lobby and parking lot are open 24/7 for people wanting to conduct transactions. The only problem he can foresee is that, if the program grows too popular, it could disrupt day-to-day business. But so far the advantages outweigh any concerns, he said.
"We want people who are suspicious about a deal to use the space," he said. "Criminals don't usually want to come to the police department for any reason. And if something were to happen, we don't have to send officers out. We can respond right there."
MERIDIAN, Idaho - The Meridian Police Department has announced that they are offering their parking lot as a location to complete online transactions. You don't have to check in with the police department to use the parking lot, but if you're buying or selling guns, they advise you to check in with them.
The Meridian Police Department invites people who are meeting prospective buyers and sellers to arrange to meet in the front parking lot of the police department at 1401 E. Watertower Avenue for the exchange during normal hours.
“We advise those taking part in internet transactions to avoid exchanging items at their home. This area in the front parking lot of our department is secure and we encourage the community to use it,” Chief Jeff Lavey of the Meridian place Department explained.
While the parking lot won’t always have an officer present the area, it is under surveillance 24 hours a day. Police say if anything goes wrong with the deal, their security cameras may pick up identification and license plates that could be used to identify people who commit crimes of deception.
They say legal gun transactions are allowed, but advise the public to check in with the supervisor beforehand so that the transaction is not misconstrued by anyone.
“Meridian is one of the safest communities in our state and our police department is always looking for ways to make it even safer. This location gives people in our community a protected place to exchange internet purchases,” said Mayor Tammy de Weerd.
The program, called the Online Transaction Safety Zone, is intended to protect users of the website from becoming victims of criminals posing as buyers or sellers. For more details, click here.
Augusta deputy chief Jared Mills says the decision is not based on any recent crimes in the city, but is in response to the growing use of online sales sites such as Craigslist.
For details, read the story here.
Augusta Deputy Chief Jared Mills, speaking Tuesday during a news conference at Augusta police headquarters on Union Street in Augusta, explains a plan to let people making online sales meet in the Police Department’s lobby to complete such transactions
Scarborough joins growing list of Maine police departments offering safe zones for internet transactions
The Scarborough Police Department parking lot on Westwood Avenue will be a safe area for people to meet to execute transactions from online sites such as craigslist or who need a secure place to meet. Police departments in Augusta, Auburn, Paris and South Portland offer similar safe zones for the public to meet.
Click here for the full story.
The East Brunswick police department has established a "Safe Exchange Zone" for Craigslist sales and other online marketplaces, the department announced Wednesday.
The designated “Safe Exchange Zone” will be available to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 days a week in the parking lot of the Municipal Court next to Police Headquarters.
East Brunswick police said they thought a zone like this was necessary after seeing an an increase in violence, fraud and theft by deception related to Craigslist sales.
"In an effort to promote safer transactions between strangers, we are encouraging residents to use their local police department’s designated parking lots and lobbies as a meeting place for in-person transactions to occur," the department said in a statement.
Access to the lobby of police headquarters for meetings may be arranged in advance by calling the police department, and only during non-court hours.
While East Brunswick will not provide police personnel or staff to witness transactions in person, the area's video surveillance and proximity to police HQ is meant to increase the public’s peace of mind when they meet strangers to buy or sell an item.
York Area Regional Police this week put up an "exchange zone" parking sign, with two spots designated for those buying or selling items. The signs say the area is under 24-hour surveillance.
Read the full story here.