New Mexico police department joins movement, creates 'safe site' for Craigslist transactions

Economic Indicators Associated Press

A well-lit parking lot with 24-hour surveillance. A never-ending stream of police officers coming and going.

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There's no better place for a Craigslist transaction than Los Lunas police headquarters.

The department, which oversees a bedroom community on the outskirts of New Mexico's largest city, announced Friday it was opening its lobby and parking lot for residents looking for a safe place to complete online classified transactions.

Los Lunas is joining the wave of police departments and sheriff's offices around the country that are establishing safe sites for such transactions. They've popped up everywhere from Connecticut's capital to cities in Florida and counties in Colorado.

There have been robberies, carjackings and even killings that have stemmed from online classified listings in other cities, but Los Lunas police said no particular incident prompted them to offer up their parking lot and lobby.

In fact, it was an email the chief received from a resident who first made the suggestion.

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"It's a great idea. We thought let's just be proactive and get ahead of the game," said Detective Nikki Baca. "We thought what better opportunity than to continue the efforts of building relationships with our community and show them that their safety is important to us."

Officers in Los Lunas and elsewhere say people have no way of knowing who they're dealing with when they reply to online ads. Those with criminal intentions are far less likely to agree to meet at a police station, they say.

Craigslist advises people on its website to meet in a public place, even suggesting local police stations for high-dollar transactions. However, the company says among the billions of in-person interactions facilitated by the site, the incidence of violent crime is "extremely low."

Still, Baca said taking the offer of police departments around the country won't hurt.

"They may seem like they're nice and honest but ultimately you don't know who's behind that phone or what they have planned," she said.

Residents and business owners who buy and sell on Craigslist or other online exchanges are invited to conduct their transactions in the parking lot or front lobby of Los Lunas police headquarters. Officers and department employees won't supervise any exchanges or offer advice.

"The primary concern is just the safety of our citizens," Baca said.