A sign in the parking lot of the Cobleskill Police station reads, “Internet Purchase Exchange Location. This Area is Under Video Surveillance.”
The parking lot is also well-lit at all times, and, importantly, just outside a police station.
For about a year, the Police Department has been offering the parking lot, at 378 Mineral Springs Road, as a safe place to conduct transactions arranged over the Internet, from online garage sale purchases to Craigslist deals.
“I think unfortunately in these times there is fraud out there and not everybody has the best intentions when they advertise things for sale,” said Cobleskill Police Chief Rich Bialkowski. “So this is a way to help people feel comfortable and it’s a way to help safeguard their transaction, make sure it’s a little more legitimate.”
A post about the service on Facebook drew dozens of positive responses last week, with some commenters noting that the designated space can also lend credibility to a seller who embraces it.
Bialkowski does not take credit for the idea. He said he’d heard of it being done elsewhere around the country and thought it was an easy way to provide another service to the community.
“It’s a neat idea and it doesn’t really cost us anything to provide it,” he said.
Adam Benjamin, a Cobleskill resident who founded the Facebook page Cobleskill Online Garage Sale, said he’s been conducting transactions for five or six years, usually in busy public places like the parking lot of a Price Chopper or Walmart.
He’s sold movies, cars, toys that his children have grown out of.
“In my experience, nothing bad has happened,” he said.
He’s had some people not show up for deals, but nothing criminal, and said most people are comfortable making the sales in those public places. But there are some people, particularly older people, he said, who may feel comforted by the Police Department’s offer.
And there are some people who definitely would not be — like people selling cellphones that are likely stolen.
“In that aspect, it would be a good thing to meet at the police station,” he said.
The idea was more recently picked up by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, as well. In announcing the move last Tuesday, Sheriff Jeffrey T. Murphy said the safe zone is designed to “protect citizens from various crimes associated with online transactions including robberies, thefts and assaults.”
They’re establishing a safe zone in a marked area of the parking lot of the Law Enforcement Center in Fort Edward and planning to install additional high-definition cameras to cover the area.
Police officers do not monitor or mediate the transactions in either place.
“The hope is that the area will be safer for buyers and sellers and will deter criminals,” Murphy wrote in the announcement.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway, according to Murphy: “If someone is not willing to come to the Sheriff’s Office to complete a transaction, it is probably not legitimate.”
Bialkowski said the Cobleskill parking lot has been used often for transactions in the past year.
“We’ve seen people conducting transaction, and we’ve had people come in after the fact and say, ‘Thanks,’ ” he said.