Ellsworth Police Chief Maverick Campbell Sr. likes to take a proactive approach to policing. He and his staff make a point of keeping an eye on crime trends not only in the local area, but around the nation. One area where crime and fraud has seen an uptick recently is in the growing e-commerce marketplace. Around the nation, reports of buyers and sellers falling victim to scams, robberies or worse after initiating exchanges on sites like Craigslist, Buy-Sell-Trade, eBay, and other facebook groups and web sites led to a simple idea. Thursday, the Ellsworth Police Department’s facebook page announced the new “Safe Exchange Zone.”
“This new initiative, the Ellsworth “Safe Exchange Zone,” is two parking spaces that have been identified and reserved in front of the Police Department, located at 207 N. Kansas Ave., for online buyers and sellers who can feel more secure in their face-to-face transactions. In addition, the location can also provide a mutual place for civil exchanges, such as child custody visitation, to lessen the potential for problems between the parties,” the announcement reads.
Campbell spoke with the Tribune Thursday. While there have been no reports of Ellsworth residents, only by being proactive will law enforcement be able to stay a step ahead of opportunistic criminals, he said. The vision was to create a place for people in the community, as well as visitors or people passing through could arrange to meet with people they don’t actually know, he said. In addition to being located in front of the police station, the zone is also monitored by video surveillance.
Elsewhere, there have been reports of armed robberies, sexual assaults and home invasion crimes taking place when strangers meet away from public scrutiny to make an exchange.
“To the trained eye, many scams or set-ups are apparent,” he said. He doesn’t want anyone to have to learn the hard way. To ensure that, people also need to use their common sense when arranging transactions. Meeting in a safe, public place during the day is one way to avoid trouble. Still, with daylight savings time, its not uncommon for people to have no choice but to meet after dark, but this provides an option. If someone refuses to meet at the SEZ, or hangs up midway through the conversation, its safe to say the other party was up to no good, Campbell said.
Finally, the announcement reminds users to follow their gut instincts if they ever feel the motives of a party to a transaction are questionable. They are asked not to hesitate to call dispatch at 785-472-4416 to see if an officer is available to do a “stand by” during the exchange. Keep in mind this will be based on a priority call order and availability of an officer.
Other law enforcement agencies around the country have begun to offer similar services, Campbell said. If the first SEZ works out well, others in the city and maybe even in the county will follow. He hopes other communities follow suit.