Smithfield Herald

Smithfield creating safe zone for Internet sales

Smithfield Police Chief Michael Scott is creating a safe play for Internet buyers and sellers to make their exchanges.
Smithfield Police Chief Michael Scott is creating a safe play for Internet buyers and sellers to make their exchanges. abennett@neewsobserver.com

Buying and selling online can be risky business, especially if the transaction is in person. But the Smithfield Police Department hopes to make such sales safer.

Internet sales are growing in popularity thanks to the likes of Craigslist and virtual yard sale groups on Facebook. But with that popularity come robberies and scams, says Smithfield Police Chief Mike Scott.

His department plans to adopt a model used by other towns, including Apex in Wake County, to make those transactions safer. Smithfield’s Town Council recently granted the chief’s request to establish an Internet exchange safety zone at the police station on South Fifth Street. The zone should be in place by April, Scott said.

The safety zone will be the police station parking lot that fronts Fifth Street. Scott said he will spend about $3,000 to purchase and install video cameras to monitor the parking lot, signage to denote the exchange zone and computer monitors at the station and at the Johnston County Communications Center to see the video feed.

Citizens can arrange a transaction online and come to the police station to make the exchange in front of the cameras. Child-custody swaps also could take place in the lot, Scott said, noting that many citizens already use the parking lot as a safe space to make exchanges.

Scott encouraged citizens to come to the lot during business hours, in the event they need immediate police assistance. If someone uses the safety zone outside of department office hours, a button near the entrance connects to the county communications center for emergency assistance, Scott said.

“People already do this,” Scott said. “They come here to feel safe, and if someone is trying to scam or rob you, they probably won’t meet you at the police department. This is just even more of a deterrent. And if you come during business hours, which I hope people will, we’ll be right here to help.”

Scott said he was unaware of any Internet exchanges gone wrong in Smithfield, “but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

Video from the lot will be recorded on a hard drive, which Scott said should be able to hold about a week’s worth of footage before writing over the data. That amount should be more than adequate, Scott said, since an incident should come quickly to the attention of police.

If the video becomes part of an ongoing investigation or court proceeding, police and the district attorney would decide whether to make it public, Scott said.

The town plans to contract with Carolina Phone and Security, the same company the police department uses for evidence room security and previously used for installing video monitoring and alarms in Town Hall three years ago.

The company will charge the town $2,620 to install the cameras and recording equipment. The two computer monitors will cost a total of $259.98, and the signage marking the lot will cost $69, for a total project cost of $2,948.98.

Scott said the safety zone would require no additional staff demand or recurring costs. The $3,000 in start-up costs will come from the police department budget, the chief said, noting that low gasoline prices are saving the department money.

The safety zone will deploy high-definition cameras that perform well in low-light conditions, perform in all weather conditions and are vandal and tamper resistant, according the the manufacturer.

For more information the safety zone, go to www.smithfield-nc.com or find the Smithfield Police Department on Facebook, where updates on the installation will available.

Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett

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