Catoosa Sheriff's Dept. Safe Exchange Zone

The Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office maintains two marked parking spaces in its parking lot as a Safe Exchange Zone that is under 24-hour surveillance for people who need to meet a stranger to finalize an online transaction such as a sale through Craig’s List or for some other reason.

Online selling and buying sites are a goldmine of opportunity for people who are up to no good, from scammers to thieves to murderers, because so many of the transactions require people to meet in person to exchange goods and money.

While most of these transactions end well, too many do not. Overly trusting individuals have lost their cash and sometimes their lives.

To help reduce the risk of meeting strangers who might have it in for you, Catoosa County has designated two parking spaces in front of the sheriff’s department as a “Safe Exchange Zone.”

“We set up the Safe Exchange Zone about a year ago,” says Catoosa Sheriff’s Department Capt. Chris Lyons. “We saw that other law enforcement agencies around the country were doing it and we thought it was a good idea.”

Two recent comments on the sheriff’s department’s Facebook page indicate the public likes the idea, too.

One Facebook user wrote: “I think all police departments and Sheriff departments should do this. Thanks for keeping us safe.” Another wrote: “You guys are amazing! That’s so kind of you.”

Lyons says that surveillance cameras were already trained on the parking lot at the sheriff’s office, but the department installed an additional camera zoomed in on the two parking spaces labeled as the Safe Exchange Zone. “The extra camera can read license plate numbers,” says Lyons.

Lyons says people have been using the zone for transactions. “We’ve seen them in person and we’ve seen people writing on social media about using them.”

Sometimes, says Lyons, just suggesting the Safe Exchange Zone as a meeting place might thwart a crime. “If you tell someone you want to meet in a safe zone and they won’t agree or they just don’t show up, there’s a chance they had bad intentions.”

The two marked parking spaces are in the second row of parking directly across from the front doors of the sheriff’s department.

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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