Robberies have occurred before in this town during the execution of transactions that originated on classified websites and social media.
It happened in 2012, when a Raleigh man who arranged to show a Durham man a cell phone he had listed on Craigslist was robbed with a pocket knife pulled on him in the Triangle East shopping center.
“They’ve had similar instances in Raleigh actually result in violence,” Zebulon police Chief Tim Hayworth told the town board at its meeting last week.
Hayworth was there to ask the town leaders’ permission to start an Operation Safe Sale Program in town. He wants to create a “safe zone” outside the Zebulon police station where people hoping to carry out their online business can do so with a greater sense of security.
Zebulon police had discussed the idea before but Hayworth said he had never seen it come together until the Durham County Sheriff’s Office started a similar program over the summer, rekindling his interest. The Wake Forest Police Department also launched an Operation Safe Sale in May.
Commissioners gave Hayworth the OK to use $3,000 in federal forfeiture funds to pay for the program. Those are funds the department retains from money and items confiscated by police in drug cases.
The amount will cover a weather-resistant picnic table for conducting transactions ($600), signage and advertising for the program ($300) and video camera equipment and installation ($2,048).
“This money can only be used for police training, police equipment – things like this are exactly what this type of money is for,” Hayworth said. “With a camera installed, we’d have 24-7 video surveillance which would be interlaced into the surveillance system at the police department.”
Hayworth hopes to have the space operating by early December, “for at least the latter part of the Christmas shopping season, if we can,” he said.
Commissioner Curtis Strickland asked what would happen if someone came to buy or sell a vehicle, or another large item. Hayworth said he had considered that possibility and that a parking space at town hall may be designated for such instances.
Mayor Bob Matheny wanted to know if there was anything beyond surveillance for police to turn to in the event someone decided to pull a fast one on another person, even in front of the police station. Hayworth said the site would not guarantee an officer would be present during transactions.
“Would there be anything on paper beyond the way to try to identify subjects on video?” Matheny asked.
Hayworth said there would not be documentation of sales, but said he believes the mix of location and surveillance creates a strong crime-deterrent.
“If someone on (a website) says, ‘Let’s meet at the Zebulon Police Department safe zone,’ that throws up a red flag,” Hayworth said. “Is it a guarantee nothing wrong will happen? No, but I certainly believe the likelihood of them being robbed in the front yard of the police department is a lot less than in a shopping center or parking lot somewhere. Plus, if something does happen, it will be on high quality surveillance for police to review and investigate.
“We’re just saying, this is the police department property. Most people feel safe on the police department property.”
There will be rules set out for users of the safe zone, to prevent things like people entering the police department with firearms they bring to sell.
Hayworth said for transactions taking place during normal business hours, police can run serial numbers through their systems to make sure items passing hands aren’t stolen.