A package from online marketplace OfferUp arrived in the summer unsolicited at Grain Valley City Hall, complete with a sign to post, prompting Chief of Police David Starbuck to do a little research.
The sign was to designate City Hall, specifically outside the police station, as a MeetUp spot for transactions of online purchases. Such spots in public areas, whether sponsored by MeetUp or not, have been designated in increasing numbers nationwide with the proliferation of private online sales and purchases.
“I looked it up and found nothing wrong with it, (City Administrator) Ryan Hunt thought it was a great idea, so we slapped it up there,” Starbuck said. “Any city that puts (the sign) up, they put it on their website.”
City spokesperson Sara Nadeau said social media response was “huge” after she posted last month about the MeetUp spot at 711 N. Main St., which being right outside City Hall already had video surveillance.
“People were super-positive and excited about it, so obviously it was something they wanted,” Nadeau said. “It went viral.”
Such exchange spots for online transactions are meant to deter potential criminal activity, as the local buyer and seller meet at a public place – often well-lit and monitored in some way – as opposed to a private residence.
John Syme from the Independence Police Department said the front lobby of the Central Police Building has been known as an exchange spot for years – “When Craigslist stuff got popular,” he said. Even in the early morning hours when the lobby isn't open, the area directly outside is lit and under camera surveillance.
“People always see the police station as a safe place,” he said.
Starbuck said exchange spots for online sales basically are an extension of having safe places to make child custody exchanges, or even short visitations.
“Our station, and many others, is already used for that – sometimes by court decree,” he said.
The Blue Springs Police Department has a sign outside the main entrance to the Howard Brown Public Safety Building on Smith Street, noting the “Safe Room” just inside the front doors. That secured, camera-monitored room can be used to conduct exchanges.
In Lee's Summit, the safe exchange area is in the public parking lot next to the police department's training center, at the headquarters at the corner of Tudor Road and Douglas Street. In Sugar Creek, there's a sign in the police parking lot off Heroes Way to clearly mark the exchange zone.
While exchange areas are well-lit, easily accessed by the public and often have a camera for 24/7 surveillance, they are not necessarily monitored at all times, so Starbuck and others still suggest some basic cautions. If possible, make exchanges during daylight and bring another person to observe the transaction.
On their website, Lee's Summit police encourage buyers and sellers to remember that they're still meeting a stranger.
“If a person in unwilling to meet you at the Police Department to conduct a transaction,” police say, “that should make you highly suspicious of their intentions.”