Police set aside parking lot for safe Craigslist exchanges

Raytown police have established a safe trade zone at their headquarters.
Raytown police have established a safe trade zone at their headquarters.

Raytown police have become the latest area department to offer a safe place to make exchanges after online transactions on sites such as Craigslist.

Police announced last week that the south side of the back parking lot at their headquarters, 10000 E. 59th St., is a “safe trade zone.” The department says the lot is well lit and available for use 24 hours a day.

“The area is not monitored or staffed by officers, and we encourage everyone to still be cautious when meeting any person that they do not know,” Raytown police said in announcing the area. “If a person is unwilling to meet you at the police department to conduct a transaction, that should make you highly suspicious of their intentions.”

More and more police departments across the country are creating safe trade zones in response to incidents where people have been robbed — or worse — when meeting strangers for an exchange.

In 2014, a Liberty couple was shot and robbed after arranging to meet a purported Craigslist seller in southeast Kansas City to examine a car. Three people have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing in federal court.

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that more than 100 murders have been linked to Craigslist.

On its website, Craigslist says “vanishingly few” violent crimes are related to its users.

“The overwhelming majority of Craigslist users are trustworthy and well-meaning,” the site says. “With billions of human interactions, the incidence of violent crime related to Craigslist is extremely low.”

Most police departments already welcome “civil standbys,” such as child custody exchanges. Increasingly, they are designating spaces to complete transactions made online.

Last year the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, 12 S. Water St. in Liberty, established an “online exchange zone” in its lobby with audio and video recording.

Lee’s Summit police set up a specific safe trade zone in June.

“The area is located on the north side of our front parking lot near our training center and it is well lit and available for use 24 hours a day,” the department said.

Kansas City police suggest that people meet at one of their patrol stations or some other public place for safe Internet exchanges, but the department has no plan to specifically create safe places for Craigslist exchanges, said police spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves.

Kansas City, Kan., police do not have a safe trade zone policy but encourage people to meet in a public place.

The Independence police parking lot, across the street from City Hall, is gated. But people are welcome to use the lobby, 223 N. Memorial Drive, at any time except from 2 to 6 a.m.

“They’ve always been able to come into our lobby and do that,” said Officer John Syme. “Since our lobby is audio- and video-recorded, we feel it’s a safe place.”

Similarly, the Overland Park Police Department lobby at 12400 Foster St. is available for transactions. The same is true in Olathe.

“We encourage people, if they want to use the front parking lot of our police department or the lobby, to do so,” said Olathe police spokesman Sgt. Bryan Hill. The address is 501 E. Old 56 Highway.

Generally, police have no way to measure how many people take advantage of their parking lots or lobbies for safe transactions because people do not need to notify them that they plan to meet someone there.

Raytown’s safe trade zone has one important caveat: “Firearms transactions will not be allowed on the property.”

Independence police also do not allow firearms exchanges, as no guns are allowed in any city buildings.

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC