By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — The rise of Craigslist, and the easy online sale of unwanted computers or concert tickets through Facebook posts and other sites, has been accompanied by a dark side — the tense moments when strangers must meet to complete the deal.
The stories of danger are plentiful: a string of armed robberies in 2015 of people selling phones; a college student slain in Missouri after agreeing to sell a car on Craigslist; a job seeker in Ohio killed and buried by a farmer.
But a new idea is emerging with local police departments around the country to combat the problem: A “safe exchange zone,” clearly marked in the parking lot of a well-lit police station, or even in the lobby of the police station, for people to meet and sell their goods with less fear of a quick or violent rip-off. Now, Wausau Police and the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department are following suit, creating safe zones of their own in their respective parking lots.
The practice appears to have started in Boca Raton, Fla., spread through central Florida and then through the law enforcement grapevine to police parking lots and lobbies throughout the country as a way to give online buyers and sellers a sense of security when they meet.
Officers do not get involved in the transactions, but the lots are monitored by security cameras. The safe zones in Wausau consist of two parking spaces adjacent to visitor parking designated with signs.
“There you’re welcome to trade legal items, including internet sales, or conduct child custody exchanges in a safe atmosphere promoted by a well-lit, police protected, and camera-monitored environment,” the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department announced Wednesday in a Facebook post. “While law enforcement will not screen or oversee your transaction or child-exchange, we will respond if an emergency arises. Our Safe Exchange Zones are available 24 hours a day and can be used on a first come, first served basis.”
The zones are located at the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, 500 Forest St., and in the parking lot adjacent to the Wausau Police Department, 515 Grand Ave., both in Wausau.