Waukegan, Gurnee offer police stations as safe zones for Craigslist … – Chicago Tribune

Waukegan Police Department squad car. (File photo, Lake County News-Sun)
For buyers and sellers on Craigslist, there’s a new place to make the handoff: the police station.
Several police departments across Illinois, including Waukegan and Gurnee, allow their lobbies to be used as “safe havens” for completing online transactions, joining a national trend.
“There’s no official program, but pretty regularly we get people, whether it’s a custody exchange or private transaction, doing it at the station or parking lot,” said Cmdr. Willie Meyer of the Gurnee Police Department. “We certainly encourage that; we have no problem allowing people to do that. It’s been going on for awhile.”
Waukegan Police Cmdr. Joe Florip said the use of a police station as a safe haven predates Craigslist and the Internet in general.
“We welcome the community, especially if they want to feel like they are in a safe environment. That’s what we are here for,” he said. “You want to feel safe? Come here. We have zero problem with anybody using our property as a safe haven.”
Officials at smaller police departments in Lake County, including Round Lake Beach and Zion, said providing residents that protection during transactions isn’t as simple.
“We don’t have anything in the works, we haven’t discussed it, but our lobby isn’t open (24) hours a day,” said Michael Scott, deputy chief of the Round Lake Beach Police Department.
“We would have to call an officer in to do that,” he added, noting that the station’s lobby closes at 5 p.m. “If you have a 24/7 department, there is no manpower drain.”
In Zion, the police department lobby is already used for child custody exchanges but officials there said they have not looked at providing the lobby for Internet transactions.
“We wouldn’t discourage it,” said Zion Deputy Chief Kirk Henderson, referring to daytime transactions because the Zion station isn’t open 24 hours.
Providing the security of a police station for in-person exchanges, however, doesn’t curtail the most common Internet-related crime, said Naperville police Cmdr. Ken Parcel.
In Naperville, which does offer its station, impersonal scams outnumber crimes related to in-person transactions, 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 local police officials’ 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.
Chicago Tribune reporter Lexy Gross contributed to this report.
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