Bedford police haven’t seen a violent crime result from a Craigslist transaction, although a seller reported in January that his iPhone was stolen by a would-be buyer.
Now, thanks in part to a City Council member’s suggestion, the department has another tool to help keep it that way.
The city recently opened an exchange zone in the parking lot of the Police Department. There, under the watchful eye of a surveillance camera, buyers and sellers from online marketplaces can meet to conduct business, and divorced parents can make child-custody handoffs.
Euless also established a safe-zone program this month, and Arlington police are working on one.
The website safetradestations.com says “hundreds” of departments nationwide offer a protected site for Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and other transactions involving strangers.
Bedford officials said they wanted to give people a safe place to go in the hope of preventing a more serious crime, such as a murder or kidnapping. Councilman Roger Fisher had heard about a safe-zone program in Georgia and suggested it to police.
“We thought it was a great idea, so we took the ball and ran with it really quickly,” said Kelli Agan, technical services manager for the Police Department. “We haven’t had any homicides or kidnappings, but we do have scams, and when the average Joe gets scammed, it doesn’t make the news.”
Police in Fort Worth and other cities have dealt with serious crimes such as robberies and murders associated with online marketplaces.
In July, two men were arrested in Fort Worth after they were accused of arranging to buy and sell athletic shoes on Facebook and Craigslist with the intention of robbing people who responded to the ads.
In January, a Georgia couple were robbed and killed when they met someone after they arranged to buy a 1966 Ford Mustang. And in Hartford, Conn., a man was robbed when he used Craigslist to sell a laptop computer.
According to The Associated Press, Peter Zollman said his classified-ad consulting firm found more than 20 killings associated with Craigslist in 2014.
About two weeks ago, Bedford designated three of its parking spaces with green markings saying “exchange zone.” Each space is monitored by surveillance cameras. Agan said dispatchers inside the buildings can see the activity outside.
Agan said that the city contacted its vendor, WildFire Camera Networks, and that the cameras were installed quickly. They can store up to 30 days’ worth of surveillance video and have infrared lights to pick up activity at night.
The Police Department lobby is also open during business hours to people who want an officer to check a vehicle identification number or a computer serial number to make sure the car or laptop they bought isn’t stolen.
In Euless, several spaces in the Police Department’s northwest parking lot at 1102 Euless Blvd. are marked as exchange zones.
Betsy Deck, a city spokeswoman, said the spaces are monitored and can also be used for child-custody exchanges. However, officers are not available to help check serial or vehicle identification numbers, she said.
“If there is ever a concern that things might become volatile during the exchange, they strongly encourage residents to contact the Police Department and arrange to have an officer present,” she said.
Euless does not keep separate tabs on crimes associated with online advertising sites. They are listed as robberies and thefts.
Arlington police are working to establish safe zones at police stations, spokeswoman Tiara Ellis Richard said.
Richard said that the main lobby at Division and Cooper streets is always open if people want to meet someone in a monitored area.
“We’ve told people that our main lobby is a great place for doing child exchanges, drop-offs or anything where you feel like safety might be a concern,” she said.
In Fort Worth, the main Police Department lobby at 350 W. Belknap St. is open 24 hours a day and an officer is on duty at the front desk, said officer Natosha Tucker, a police spokesman.
The Benbrook Police Department’s parking lot is also equipped with a video camera, and people are welcome to use the lot or the lobby for custody exchanges or Craigslist transactions, Police Chief James Mills said.
“People have been using our parking lot for years for child-custody exchanges, but I’m not aware of anyone using it for anything like a Craigslist transaction. I think it is a good idea,” Mills said.
Officials from Craigslist did not respond to an email from the Star-Telegram seeking comment. But the site’s recently updated safety page now includes the suggestion, “Consider making high-value exchanges at your local police station.”
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696
A sampling of Craigslist-related crimes in Tarrant County in recent years:
▪ July: Two men are arrested in Fort Worth, accused of arranging to buy and sell athletic shoes through Craigslist and Facebook with the intention of robbing people who respond to the ads.
▪ August 2013: An Arlington man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling stolen cellphones on Craigslist and eBay.
▪ April 2013: A man was shot to death in a robbery during a cellphone sale that had been arranged through Craigslist. The shooting occurred outside a business in southeast Fort Worth.
▪ November 2012: Two men who went to a Fort Worth apartment complex planning to buy a car they’d seen advertised on Craigslist were instead robbed.
▪ December 2011: Two people were arrested, accused of robbing people at gunpoint after luring them to a Fort Worth restaurant with a Craigslist ad featuring an iPad for sale.
Area police urge residents to consider the following when meeting a stranger to buy or sell an expensive item such as a tablet, a cellphone or a computer in an online advertisement.
▪ Take someone with you.
▪ If something feels “off,” stop the contact.
▪ Make sure relatives and friends know the time and place of any transaction you set up.
▪ Never list your home address or phone number in an ad.
▪ Research the seller/buyer if you can.
▪ Check other websites to determine whether the seller/buyer has had any reported problems.
▪ Beware of any deal that sounds too good to be true.
▪ Research products to determine their true worth.
▪ Avoid out-of-the-way meeting places and nighttime transactions. Insist on meeting at a location where many people will be, like a police station lobby or near other city facilities such as fire stations.
▪ Be wary of someone who insists on secluded locations or areas out of public view.
▪ Avoid sellers who contact you without invitation.
▪ Be wary of out-of-town buyers.
Source: Arlington police