With its expansive audience and free listing service, Craigslist.com can be a great tool for the purchase, sale or exchange of goods. Yet sometimes the actual act of exchanging can lead to uncomfortable or even perilous situations such as last week when a pregnant woman in Colorado was stabbed and her unborn child suffered fatal wounds by an assailant who answered her Craigslist ad. It’s just one of many grisly stories that have emerged from transactions in the largely anonymous marketplace.
Crimes like these have recently prompted local police departments to act by allowing station lobbies and parking lots to become safe grounds for Craigslist transactions. In March, both the Naperville and Evanston departments made local news for the program that has been referred to in at least one town as the Buyers and Sellers Environment of Safety. It notes that any member of the public can use the lobby during hours of operation for safe exchanges or defer to station parking lots after hours (when the area is still monitored by on-duty personnel) or for oversized items.
Northbrook was one of the first to institute such a program beginning last October. Daniel J. Petka, community relations supervisor of the Village’s police department, said it likely was instigated by the report of a resident earlier that month who met with an interested buyer of his iPhone, but had it stolen from his hands during the transaction. “It was shortly after that when we put an article in our newsletter” promoting the new program, said Petka. The news has since appeared in additional bulletins, though Petka couldn’t say if he knew of how many had used the police station for such a purpose.
Northbrook’s upcoming April newsletter tells readers, “If you are considering making an online or classified ad transaction, such as Craigslist, that may involve a face-to-face meeting with an unknown party, please consider using the Northbrook Police Department for the exchange. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Residents are allowed to use the lobby or the public parking lot in front at 1401 Landwehr Road.” The bulletin also includes extensive preventative tips for cyber scams.
Daily North Shore reached out to other local police departments to see if this is an initiative they offer as well:
“There is nothing that would keep anyone from using the lobby as an exchange location, but we have never advertised it as such,” said Wilmette Chief of Police Brian King.
“To my knowledge no one has ever used the police department lobby to complete a Craigslist transaction. However, our lobby has been used on many occasions for domestic related issues, such as the return of a child after court ordered visitation with a parent,” said Joseph Pellus, deputy chief of police in Winnetka. “With that said, I would encourage our residents to use our lobby for those types of transactions, if for nothing else that they feel safe.”
“With the change to central dispatch, our lobby is only open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Residents are welcome to use the lobby during those times,” noted David D. Belmonte, chief of police in Lake Bluff.
In Lake Forest the police department is considering the idea, said Karl Walldorf, deputy chief of police. “We do not currently do this, but there is certainly nothing preventing us from doing so except we are no longer ‘open’ after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays. However, even then our outer lobby is video recorded and monitored remotely by dispatch so it would still probably be safer than a parking lot somewhere.”
Glenview currently does not offer such services but Deputy Chief Stefan Johnson said, “I will talk it over with my bosses and see if it is something we can support.”
Check your local police office websites for hours of operation when you can use their facilities.