The Christiansburg Police Department and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office are partnering in an effort to proactively address safety concerns surrounding online purchases and child custody exchanges.
The agencies have launched a distinctive safe exchange zone in the parking lot behind the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office – 1 East Main Street in Christiansburg – that will be monitored at all times by video surveillance and will be available for conducting child custody exchanges or personal sales transactions for items purchased online, from sites like Craigslist or eBay.
“We recognize there are times when divorced or separated couples meet to exchange custody of their children, and those meetings can become contentious, for varying reasons,” Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sisson said. “There may be situations in which one of the individuals in the relationship fears that meeting and would prefer not to meet alone. Our number one priority is to keep the community safe, whether that’s the individuals in the relationship, the child or the passerby. With a designated safe zone, those meetings are monitored, and all participating parties are aware of that fact.”
As internet purchases become even more common, with new, localized e-commerce options like Facebook Marketplace, Christiansburg Police and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office want to minimize the opportunity for an encounter to go wrong.
“Sites like Craigslist and eBay are great assets to our community and are extremely popular, but they can also be targets from online predators,” Sheriff Hank Partin said. “If you want to sell an item on Craigslist, you now have the option to set the safe zone as your meeting place with the buyer, and that way, you don’t have to be concerned about giving out your address, about someone coming into your home or about the possibility of being robbed. It’s all recorded, and you’re right outside of our office.”
While law enforcement representatives are not responsible for the sale of items, will not be involved in any purchase negotiations and will not act as witness, they will be in close proximity if needed.
The safe zone area, which is designated by signage and is well lit, will be monitored by video surveillance 24 hours a day, but residents are still encouraged to conduct business during daylight hours.
While the agencies’ goal is to provide a neutral, monitored location to increase the public’s peace of mind, the Christiansburg Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office make no guarantees, assurances or promises as to the safety or security of interactions at the safe zone.
When engaging in e-commerce transactions, always be cautious and do not provide personal or financial information to strangers. If a buyer or seller is hesitant to meet at the designated safe zone, take that into consideration before doing business with that individual.
“Our hope is that if a situation arose at the safe zone, such as a dispute or a robbery, we would be able to review the footage to confirm the series of events or discover identifying features, such as a license plate number or description of a subject or vehicle,” Sisson said. “Overall, our goal is always to make the community safer, and we hope this designated exchange zone will do just that.”
— Submitted by Melissa Powell