Some police stations offered as safe zones for Craigslist sales – Chicago Tribune

Naperville police plan to announce that Craigslist buyers and sellers can use the police station lobby as a safe place for conducting a transaction. (Melissa Jenco, Chicago Tribune 2014)
For buyers and sellers on Craigslist, there’s a new place to make the handoff: the police station.
Illinois police departments from Naperville to Peoria are offering their lobbies as “safe havens” for completing online transactions, joining a national trend.
Naperville police Cmdr. Ken Parcel said Monday that the department plans to announce that the lobby of its station can be used by buyers and sellers who connect through Craigslist and other online markets.
Most Internet-related crime in the western suburb involves impersonal scams, not in-person transactions, Parcel said, who described the lobby policy as “a preventative measure to ensure there’s a safe place to allow (buyers and sellers) to conduct their normal lives and business.”
The department’s staff won’t be involved in the transactions or oversee them, Parcel said.
Late last month, the Peoria Police Department announced that residents could use a department parking lot and the lobby of its station for online transactions, “in an effort to deter Craigslist robberies.”
The Chicago Police Department said in a statement Monday that there are no dedicated “safe zones” for Craigslist buyers and sellers in the city, but it echoed Naperville’s desire to keep transactions safe.
“If you plan on buying or selling items via Craigslist or any other online site, the Chicago Police Department suggests that you conduct your transaction at the closest police station to protect both the buyer and seller,” the statement said.
The statement did not specify which areas in or around Chicago police stations would be open for online buyers and sellers to complete their deals.
The department recommended that such transactions take place in well-lit, public places and, if possible, that those involved “bring another person with you.”
Reports of violent crime and theft stemming from Craigslist transactions occasionally appear on police blotters in the city and suburbs. In one instance, a dispute over a Craigslist transaction for an online gaming system in 2013 led to the shooting death of a 24-year-old Tinley Park man.
But such crimes are rare, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Police in Illinois said crime didn’t drive the forming of safe havens, though one Indiana official said it was the impetus.
Dax Norton, town manager in Whitestown, said a number of violent crimes linked to Craigslist transactions in Indiana were the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” He said the town recently decided to offer its municipal complex.
Residents can even request a police officer to look over the transaction, Norton said.
“My wife uses Craigslist a lot,” Norton said. “I think it’s a great idea.”
Since Whitestown announced the service last month, police have overseen various transactions, including one involving a puppy otherwise destined for a local animal shelter, Norton said.
Not all police departments are jumping on board to oversee Craigslist transactions.
Edgar Gregory, deputy chief of the Joliet Police Department, said there are other locations available for safe transactions. He suggested residents use public lots, even the police station’s, but said the department doesn’t oversee sales transactions.
No one from Craigslist could be reached for comment. But Craigslist features a personal safety page suggesting users meet in a public place, tell a family member where they are going and take a cellphone. The page notes that the “overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-intentioned,” and that violent crime is low.
Even so, the movement to make such transactions safer is gathering steam nationwide. In Hartford, Conn., there’s “Operation Safe Lot,” in which online deals can be completed in a police parking lot. In Virginia Beach, Va., a program called “Find a Safe Place” allows such transactions in police station lobbies.
Lombard resident Kay Pauli said he always meets his Craigslist buyers in a public place, like a mall or a gas station. Right now, Pauli is focused on selling a Budweiser neon sign.
Pauli, who said he likes the idea of meeting at a police department or public building, said he’s heard stories of Craigslist crimes but hasn’t had any problems with safety in the years he’s sold items through the site.
“We usually meet at a public place,” he said. “It’s an easy way for people to find me, too. Like a JCPenney or something.”
Twitter @lexygross
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