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Police Offer Safe Spaces For Craigslist Exchanges

Horrific crimes point to the need for better protocols in internet-initiated deals.

Photo by Calton via Wikimedia Commons

In light of a few recent horrific crimes committed by people who found their victims through Craigslist, police departments are now creating safe spaces for the sites’ buyers, sellers, and swappers. According to NPR, Craigslist revised its “personal safety” guidelines this week, recommending that users make their “high-value exchanges” at local police stations. NPR spoke to Hartford, Connecticut Chief of Detectives Brian Foley, whose department is offering a parking lot outside the police station as an IRL trading post for online transactors. Appropriately, they call the project “Operation Safe Lot.”

“If it's gonna prevent a robbery, if it's gonna prevent a homicide, if it's gonna make our citizens feel safe ... we can live with it,” Foley told NPR. “We don't want it to become a flea market out there, but certainly it hasn't been a problem.”

Craigslist is a modern-day bazaar, where you can find anything from a job to a used lawnmower, new bandmates to the most casual of encounters. But you can never really tell who’s behind that ad for a part-time gig or an old record player; every once in a while that could mean dealing with someone harboring malicious intentions. For example, earlier this year, an elderly Atlanta couple were robbed and murdered trying to buy a vintage Ford Mustang through the site. And in a crime that defies normal human comprehension, just this month, a pregnant Colorado woman, lured by an ad promising free baby clothes, was attacked brutally, and her unborn child was cut from her womb. The mother survived, the child did not.

Crimes like these are surely not typical of Craigslist in general, but are terrifying enough to scare even the internet’s bravest denizens. While the site’s operators generally seem uninterested in commenting on these tragedies (they did not respond to NPR’s request, or an earlier inquiry from the Washington Post about the Atlanta incident), the site’s safety recommendations urge users to “take the same common sense precautions online as you would offline.” This kind of advice is vague, cold comfort—while every person is responsible to take precautions for their own safety, in a world where more and more of our transactions and social exchanges take place online, it’s important that we have normalized protocols for the way we meet each other and do business. Crimes can even take place in many public places, though most scammers or predators would not want to go anywhere near a police station. This is why police offering these new spaces is not just a good move, but also a step towards a modern infrastructural necessity.

Daniel Alexander, Boca Raton’s Police Chief, told NPR that his department has been using its parking lot for this purpose since June.

“It's something that's positive for us to do for the community,” he said. “A lot of people come down here for situations and circumstances that aren't very positive. This, to us, is a positive.”

Even if your local PD has no plans to implement something like this, a police station might still be an anonymous Craigslister’s best bet. As the Daily Dot puts it:

While many local police departments might not outwardly promote something like this, their job is always to prevent crime, and if carrying out your Craigslist deal in a nearby lot will prevent a robbery or something even more serious, chances are they’ll welcome it. As always, it's best to contact local law enforcement before showing up in their parking lot with a used mattress to sell, just so you don't raise any suspicious eyebrows of your own.

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