Triangle police departments create safe spaces to complete Internet sales

Signs mark the new Internet exchange location at the Apex police station.
Signs mark the new Internet exchange location at the Apex police station. COURTESY OF APEX POLICE DEPARTMENT

A growing number of law enforcement agencies want to ensure that when you find the perfect deal on Craigslist you don’t have to be afraid to take it.

Apex is the latest in the Triangle to create an “Internet Purchase Exchange Location” to provide a safe space for buyers and sellers to meet. The area consists of several marked parking spots at the police station downtown that are monitored by cameras 24 hours a day.

“We understand people feel hesitant to give someone their home or work address or meet them in a random parking lot and wanted to provide a location that was public, monitored and accessible,” Apex police Capt. Ann Stephens said in a statement.

The Southern Pines Police Department, where Apex Police Chief John Letteney was once chief, also opened an Internet exchange location last month. Capt. Charles Campbell has yet to see anyone use the exchange location in Southern Pines, which comes complete with a panic button to contact officers inside.

“It’s going to take a few weeks for people to realize it’s there,” said Campbell.

The idea is gaining popularity across the country to counter crimes that occur when strangers meet after ostensibly agreeing to buy and sell good over the Internet. According to a study by Law Street, a media website focused on law and policy data, 45 people were killed in Craigslist-related crimes across the country from 2009 to June 2014. A report by the AIM Group, a consulting firm specializing in classified advertising, said Craigslist has also been linked to thousands of rapes, robberies and scams.

In response, the AIM Group created the website which lists police stations across the country with safe exchange zones. The site lists a half dozen in North Carolina, but leaves out several, including ones in Garner and Morrisville.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office goes a step further by offering to take a more active role in the transaction. Since May 2015, the sheriff’s office has been inviting residents to make exchanges in its parking lot or lobby in Hillsborough. But residents also can make appointments to have a sheriff’s deputy present for the transaction or check the serial numbers on items that may have been stolen.

“No one has called to ask for an appointment yet,” said Sheriff Charles Blackwood. But he says he’s confident the transaction safe zone is deterring stolen goods from being sold in Orange County because those sellers are unlikely to agree to get the serial numbers checked.

The sheriff’s office does not track how often the parking lot is used to carry out Internet sales.

Blackwood said he got the idea after receiving many calls from residents who felt unsafe when carrying out Craigslist transactions, as well as complaints from disgruntled buyers.

After browsing the Internet, he found a police department in Colorado who had created a safe zone. He pitched the idea to several deputies, and then got to work making signs in-house and rolling out a social media campaign.

“It cost zero dollars,” said Blackwood.

Kent: 919-829-4835

Internet exchange locations

Safe places to complete Internet sales are found at the following locations:

▪ Apex Police Department, 205 Saunders St., Apex

▪ Durham County Justice Center, 510 South Dillard St., Durham

▪ Garner Police Department, 912 Seventh Ave., Garner

▪ Lee County Sheriff’s Office, 1401 Elm St., Sanford

▪ Morrisville Police Department, 260 Town Hall Dr., Morrisville

▪ Orange County Sheriff’s Office, 106 E. Margaret Lane, Hillsborough

▪ Southern Pines Police Department, 450 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Southern Pines

▪ Wake Forest Police Department, 225 S. Taylor St., Wake Forest