SC Police stations act as havens for online buyers, sellers

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2015 1:39 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Some law enforcement agencies in South Carolina are offering up their parking lots as a well-lit, secure place to finalize deals made on Craigslist and other online marketplaces.

Officers say they won't get involved in the deals themselves, staying out of the individual transactions. But officials say they hope that, by doing the buying and selling at a police station or sheriff's department, people will be less likely to cut a shady deal — or get violent.

At least two people have been killed in South Carolina in recent years when online transactions went wrong in real life. In 2013, two men were charged with murder and kidnapping after authorities said they shot to death a Charleston man they met because he was selling his pickup truck on Craigslist.

Authorities said 25-year-old William Apps met the two men in downtown Charleston and drove them to Mount Pleasant, where Apps was taken out of the truck at gunpoint. He was later forced back into the truck and driven around before one of the men shot Apps in the neck and left his body in a wooded area, according to court documents.

Last year, two men investigators said shot and killed a Lexington County man during a transaction that began on Craigslist were charged with murder. Authorities said they arranged to meet two brothers to buy a car but shot both, killing one of them.

Given those events, across the state, Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw earlier this year asked his office to work up a news release letting people know that his office could be used for such a safe space.

"Our feeling was for safety and protection," says Jimmy Watt, Crenshaw's spokesman. "If individuals who were conducting the buying and selling of merchandise over the Internet felt safer conducting the final financial part of that at the sheriff's office parking lot, then we wanted to make that facility available to them."

Some jurisdictions, Watt points out, already offer up their parking lots as places where parents can handle child custody exchanges. And, as in those situations, he said people will hopefully be less likely to act out or otherwise misbehave is they know they'll be just steps away from a law officer.

On its website, Craigslist encourages buyers and sellers to do their business at a public place and consider handling high-dollar exchanges at a law enforcement office.

The practice, which has been adopted in jurisdictions across the country, has spread slowly across South Carolina. In Sumter County, sheriff's spokesman Braden Bunch says the department's parking lot has long been used as a gathering point and for people finalizing classified ad sales - and now, for sites like Craigslist.

"The important thing for folks to remember in these person-to-person transactions, on either side of the equation, is to make sure what might seem like a great deal doesn't impair their judgment," Bunch said.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP