RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The online classified site Craigslist updated its safety page this week, encouraging users to make exchanges at local police stations. Some police departments across the country have already started offering up their headquarters as voluntary safe zones for Craigslist deals. Patrick Skahill from member station WNPR reports.
PATRICK SKAHILL, BYLINE: Sabastian Rivera likes to ride BMX bikes. And when he's customizing his ride, he says he'll hop onto Craigslist to look for free stuff or to trade bike parts with people in his area.
SABASTIAN RIVERA: So it's pretty easy as long as, like, I get the person's number or I get their Facebook, you know, another way to communicate besides Craigslist.
SKAHILL: As we talk in downtown Hartford, Rivera echoes what a lot of people told me. Be cautious with anonymous online deals. Get as much information as you can about the person you're dealing with. And always meet in a public place. Now the Hartford Police Department is hoping the public's place of choice will be a parking lot right outside its headquarters. Brian Foley is chief of detectives.
BRIAN FOLEY: That parking lot is under 24-hour video surveillance. It's well lit. There's cops all around this building all the time.
SKAHILL: Hartford police are calling it Operation Safe Lot. And the idea is to provide the public a well-guarded space for buying and selling their stuff. Foley says it's in response to crime spikes tied to Craigslist deals in the city. And even though the parking lot is small, Foley says officers are willing to work around occasional electronic or furniture swaps happening right outside their front door.
FOLEY: If it's going to prevent a robbery, if it's going to prevent a homicide, if it's going to make our citizens feel safe, you know, we can live with it. We don't want it to become a flea market out there, but certainly it hasn't been a problem.
SKAHILL: In recent months, other departments around the country have been starting this up too. Boca Raton Police Chief Daniel Alexander says his department started offering up its parking lot last June.
DANIEL ALEXANDER: And it's something that's positive for us to do for the community. A lot of people come down here for, you know, situations and circumstances that aren't very positive. This, to us, is a positive.
SKAHILL: Since the safe lot programs are new, Alexander and other officers say it's hard to gauge yet whether or not it's working. Craigslist wouldn't answer questions about why it's now telling users to consider police parking lots for high-value exchanges. But back in downtown Hartford, Mike Loin says he thinks the company should embrace this idea for smaller transactions too.
MIKE LOIN: I think it would open it up for a bigger customer base, you know, especially for someone who may be a mother or a woman or something like that who may not feel as comfortable selling or buying a product that way.
SKAHILL: Going forward, the Hartford police say it hopes more stations start offering up their parking lots for all types of social media transactions - that is, of course, as long as they're legal. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Skahill in Hartford.
MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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