Since the proliferation of Craigslist and eBay, the internet has completely reshaped the American classifieds market. Whereas private buying and selling was once relegated to local newspapers and neighborhood word-of-mouth, the internet created a space for people from different neighborhoods, cities or even states to trade goods on a global scale. This has given way to a community policing approach that promotes buyer and seller safety.
Online classifieds forums open up new opportunities for individuals with criminal intent to entrap unsuspecting individuals with the promise of buying, selling or trading goods. Maybe the most tragic example of this occurred recently when a young, pregnant mother was strangled to death after meeting two Chicago women purporting to give her baby clothes and a stroller for free. Given the risks related to conducting private transactions with strangers, many police departments are taking steps to deter dangerous dealing and are providing safe havens for buying, selling and trading goods in their communities.
Community Policing Measures Go Beyond Meeting in Public
In the heartbreaking incident described above, the young mother went to the perpetrator’s home alone. Meeting in a Facebook mom’s group and even visiting the home a few weeks earlier without incident may have given the young woman a false sense of security. This isn’t surprising for deals that begin in social media user groups. The purpose of a user group is to create a feeling of community among like-minded people with similar circumstances regardless of their physical proximity to one another. Mom groups, in particular, have gained popularity as a way to share experiences, advice and barely used children’s goods for a fraction of the retail price.
Whether transactions are between friends from a social media user group or strangers who connect on a no-frills classifieds site like Craigslist, meeting in a public place simply isn’t a good enough security measure anymore. People have been robbed at gunpoint when meeting in a place as populated as a Walmart parking lot. The average person walking around a public area isn’t looking out for or able to deter a robbery in progress, which is why many police stations have created safe zones for private citizens to buy and sell goods.
Safe Trade Zones Offer Greater Security for Private Transactions
SafeTrade was developed in 2015 by the Advanced Interactive Media Group, LLC, a Florida-based consulting and publishing company that works with hundreds of classified advertising companies around the world. However, the origin of safe trade zones seems to be a community policing effort that started in Milwaukee in 2012 specifically for Craigslist deals. After a series of robberies involving people who used the website, Milwaukee police offered its district stations to provide residents with a safe, secure location to do business. Now, hundreds of police departments, including in Chicago, offer SafeTrade Stations as a way to reduce assaults, robberies and rip-offs from private online sales.
While meeting someone at a police station to complete a private transaction is typically a good idea, designated meeting areas provide even more reassurance because officers have knowledge of the site. In addition, the locations are well-lit, identified by signage and typically under surveillance. Still, many people may not be familiar with SafeTrade Stations or how to use them.
How to Make Your Police Station a Spot for Safe Trading
Even if your police station isn’t an official SafeTrade Station, departments can take steps to ensure buyers and sellers conduct business safely.
- Create a designated area in or near the entrance of your police station where people can conduct legal, online-initiated sales.
- Ensure the area is well-lit, easily visible by officers and ideally under 24-hour surveillance.
- Promote the safe zone on your website and at community meetings and events to ensure that residents are aware it exists. You can also issue a press release so that local news outlets can highlight it in print publications or broadcast productions.
- Post any applicable rules or restrictions (i.e., hours of operation, restrictions for drugs or firearms on the property) at the site.
- Sign up to join SafeTrade and be registered as a SafeTrade Station at safetradestations.com.
From applications such as OfferUp and Let Go to Facebook marketplaces, buyers and sellers are finding more ways to connect. The old adage “buyer beware” holds true now more than ever. Safe Trade Zones and community education are simple, inexpensive and positive ways for police departments to protect their communities. Whether residents are trying to save some dough by buying used items or save the environment by reusing goods, this community policing measure can keep people safe and help avoid the consequences of a deal gone wrong.