CUMBERLAND — Craigslist sales just got safer for Cumberland-area residents.
The town is preparing to open a so-called “safe exchange zone,” a designated area outside town hall that is monitored 24/7 by video surveillance, where residents can meet to exchange cash and goods from online sales.
Residents are vulnerable to theft and other crime when left to exchange items for cash in public places with no surveillance — or worse yet, at a stranger’s home, said Mike Crooke, chief of the Cumberland police department. Having a space for those interactions on town property, where the police station is also located, should significantly reduce risk, he said.
Two parking spaces will be marked by signs reserving them for exchanges, Crooke said, adding that the signs will arrive in coming weeks.
If residents using the spaces prefer, they can step into town hall to complete the transaction during business hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, Crooke said.
Lt. Christopher Etherton brought the idea for the space to his superiors after learning about a similar service in an outside jurisdiction.
He noted the service isn’t just for security purposes but to protect buyers from unwittingly purchasing stolen property. If buyers want to make sure an item isn’t stolen before handing off cash, they’re welcome to step into the police station to have its serial number run through a database that tracks all reported stolen property, he said.
If any exchange does go awry in the parking lot, security cameras are angled to capture the license plate numbers of vehicles parked in the spaces, Crooke said.
Crooke said he expects the number of Internet exchanges to rise in coming years, with services like Craigslist and other apps gaining popularity.
“People are obviously looking for a safe place to make those exchanges, where they’re not going to get ripped off,” Crooke said. “This helps us make sure we keep everybody safe.”
The spaces can be used by anyone looking to make a safe exchange in a secure location; for example, it could be used by parents with joint custody of children who need a space to meet to swap kids for the weekend or any other amount of time, Crooke said.
Town council member Mark Reynold said several of his constituents have expressed an interest in having such a space.
Though many residents don’t use exchange services like Craigslist at all, others rely on it to make regular purchases, Reynold said.
The space offers security to any transaction between strangers, whether from an online sale or print deals, like those found in the Daily Reporter classifieds section.
Aside from two parking signs, the new space won’t cost the town a thing, Etherton said.