'Safe zone' established in Chattanooga police station parking lot for those who trade on Internet
If the idea of completing a deal with a stranger on Craigslist or some other e-commerce site worries you, there's a new "safe exchange zone" for that at the Chattanooga Police Service Center at 3410 Amnicola Highway.
The city spent about $20,000 to designate two parking spaces and a portion of the parking lot along Amnicola and to install security cameras.
The setup will record real-life meetings of people who met online to buy, sell or trade items, along with child custody exchanges.
"What's a better safe place than right in front of the [police station]?" Chattanooga Police Department Chief David Roddy asked last Wednesday afternoon at a press conference with Mayor Andy Berke to unveil the safe space.
"We have suffered a few of these crimes here in Chattanooga," Roddy said, though he didn't have exact numbers.
"This is about being proactive," said Berke.
The cameras are on 24 hours a day, and the system stores recordings for about 30 days, Roddy said.
While police won't monitor transactions in real time, the idea is that being on camera at the police station will be enough of a deterrent.
No appointment is necessary.
Certain deals are prohibited, police say, including deals involving firearms, ammunition and explosives.
And illegal activity is forbidden, of course, such as the sale of narcotics, hazardous materials or stolen property.
If the two designated parking spaces are taken, police recommend that people park and then walk to the striped portion of the parking lot in view of the cameras to complete their deal.
The mayor and police chief credited the idea to Special Victims Unit Sgt. Scott Bales and Randy Bell, who manages the police department's vehicle fleet and facilities.
Chattanooga's not the first area police department to set up a safe space.
The police department in Dalton, Ga., in 2015 invited the public to use its parking lot as a "safe zone" for people completing e-commerce transactions and for child custody exchanges.
"We see people in our front lot pretty often," said Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier.
One inspiration for Dalton's safe zone was a 2015 murder-suicide during a child custody exchange at a gas station in Varnell, Ga. A father killed his wife, whom he'd separated from, killed their 8-year-old son and then killed himself.
"In the wake of that, we definitely thought it'd be a good idea to offer up a safe place," Frazier said.