Police departments are offering old-fashioned protection against an Internet-era risk – robberies and assaults that occur after people respond to an ad on Craigslist or other online marketplaces.
At least 70 departments are offering space in their buildings or on their grounds where strangers can meet to complete online transactions, the Wall Street Journal reports. The areas are dubbed “safe havens” or “safe transaction zones.” The zones began popping up several years ago but have become markedly more popular in recent months. The Wake Forest Police Department started providing a safe zone in May.
It’s a good idea that meets a real concern. According to the AIM Group, a classified ad consultancy that tracks cases involving online connections, there have been 87 killings since 2007 linked to Craigslist transactions. There have been many more robberies and assaults as criminals lure victims to areas where they are vulnerable.
The incidence of such crimes is a tiny fraction of the millions of deals set up online, but it’s enough to make safe transactions zones desirable.
Despite the growing demand for these zones, some local officials worry that police departments are making themselves vulnerable to lawsuits. Barbara Jordan, a Miami-Dade county commissioner, raised the liability issue when she asked during a discussion of the zones, “Do we want to take on that responsibility? We are opening up a Pandora’s box.”
The answer is: Of course local governments should take on that responsibility. It’s a public safety issue, and it comes with virtually no cost. Liability issues can be addressed.
The Internet provides vast new opportunities for connections and transactions. And new opportunities for crime. Those opportunities will be reduced if police departments bring such meetings and dealings to their doorsteps.