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Craigslist safe zone offered by Georgetown police

Georgetown Police Lieutenant Scott Hatch at the "Online Safe Zone" parking spaces in Georgetown.
Georgetown Police Lieutenant Scott Hatch at the "Online Safe Zone" parking spaces in Georgetown.(John Guilfoil)

By its very nature, a Craigslist sale involves meeting a stranger and exchanging something for money. And that can be worrisome. Now, police in Georgetown are providing buyers and sellers with a bit of extra protection — and peace of mind.

Police this week unveiled two designated “Online Safe Zones” outside the department’s headquarters. The parking spots, which are monitored by security cameras, will give people who connect through Craigslist and other online platforms the comfort of knowing officers are nearby.

“We’re not here to authenticate the items being sold, or be part of the transaction, but we are offering a location where people may feel safer than if they did it at their private home or a private parking lot,” said Lieutenant Scott Hatch.

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Hatch could not recall reports of any recent online transaction that went bad, but said the department regularly fields calls about potential Craigslist scams.

“People carry large amounts of cash, and there are situations where people might take advantage of that,” he said.

Georgetown is not the first community to introduce this type of system for online sales. Similar programs also exist in Maine, Florida, Georgia, and several communities in Illinois, according to published reports.

In March, Yarmouth police made available several parking spaces in front of their station to people conducting business that began online.

“People have come and made their transactions here and they feel safe,” said Yarmouth’s Deputy Chief of Police Steven Xiarhos. “It’s been fantastic.”

Xiarhos said people have traveled from towns outside of Yarmouth to use the safe spaces.

Craigslist encounters have resulted in some alarming, high-profile crimes, including the Craigslist killer case in Boston in 2009. But Craigslist says on its website, “With billions of human interactions facilitated, the incidence of violent crime is extremely low.”

Under a tab about personal safety, the site offers a number of tips to users worried about buying or selling items, including meeting in public places and, in cases of high-value exchanges, meeting at police stations.

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Hatch developed his plan for the safe zones in the parking lot next to the police station six months ago. Since then, the department has installed surveillance cameras and two yellow signs designating the spaces.

The police dispatch center nearby is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but officers are not keeping logs of how many people come and go, or who is pulling up.

Hatch said the cameras will capture each sale, however, and if something goes awry, buyers or sellers can look back at the footage to seek recourse.

The department considers the monitored parking spaces more of a deterrent than a trap to catch criminals.

“The bad guy isn’t generally going to come to the police station to scam you or take your money,” Hatch said.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.