Police in Brockville, Ontario have unveiled a new Internet Purchase Exchange, which is a designated neutral meeting place in their parking lot for the safe exchange of items purchased online.
The Internet Purchase Exchange, already common in hundreds of communities across North America, is designed to provide a safe space for people wary of buying items from strangers through online platforms like Craigslist, Kijiji or Facebook.
“People may take comfort in the fact they are meeting at a location that has video surveillance and 24 hour staffing in order to make an exchange,” said Chief Scott Fraser.
An increasingly common symbol of how daily life has been affected by the Internet, safe purchase exchanges appear to be a response to people’s fears over buying used goods from random strangers through online marketplaces, stoked by attention-grabbing news stories highlighting murders related to online purchases gone wrong.
In December 2015, Craigslist passed the 100-murder mark, when a 22-year-old man from Gary, Indiana attempted to rob a middle-aged couple who’d arranged to buy his car, according to the Advanced Interactive Media Group.
“Their attitude is, ‘We’re safe, we have billions of safe transactions’ — sure they do,” said Peter Zollman, the founding principal of the AIM Group. “But every single day, there are also rapes, robberies and murders linked to Craigslist. And that is a serious issue.”
Craigslist was founded in 1995, meaning that the 100 murders occurred over a 20 year period.
Gary, Indiana, essentially an urban suburb of Chicago, recorded an overall homicide rate of 50 during 2015.
The Brockville Internet Purchase Exchange joins a long list of such spaces across the United States and Canada, with Ottawa police opening one this past April, and the RCMP setting one up to the east of Edmonton in Strathcona County in May.
Calgary police also allow members of the public to use its district parking lots as meeting places to exchange goods purchased online.
One of the first Internet Purchase Safe Exchange Zones was established in Mobile, Alabama, and the idea has since caught on.
Having a safe transaction zone in front of a police station is, of course, no guarantee of absolute safety when exchanging goods with strangers.
A man was killed directly in front of a police station in Milwaukee yesterday during a Craigslist transaction gone wrong relating to the sale, ironically, of a used shotgun.
And on Prince Edward Island yesterday, a man was sentenced to 111 days in prison on charges of criminal harassment, assault and uttering threats related to an altercation that developed over the sale of a used car, during which the man threatened and spat on officers who were called in to respond to the resulting melee.
The man threatened to kill the officers and their families, and then bizarrely threatened to shoot at some boats at a nearby boating supply shop with his slingshot.
It seems unlikely that a police sanctioned Internet purchase safe zone would have helped calm that particular situation.