Safe exchange zone offers safety, protection for residents

Newly implemented safe exchange zone monitored by police surveillance for Internet exchanges, meetups, drop-offs

Pictured from left are Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik, Mayor Joann Gattinelli and Business Administrator Jason Gonter at the safe exchange zone in the police station parking lot.

Washington Township now provides a space for residents and community members to meet, under surveillance, at the police station in a safe environment.

The initial purpose of the space, located in the parking lot of the police station, is to provide safety and protection for those exchanging products purchased on the Internet. The space can also be used for residents meeting for the first time, or parents making child custody drop-offs.

“The safe exchange zone can be used for Craigslist or eBay purchases, but also for parents during custody drop-offs,” said Jason Gonter, business administrator. “This provides a safe place, knowing police cameras are focused on this spot, reducing any chance for danger if needing to exchange goods.”

Mayor Joann Gattinelli and Gonter came up with the idea for the safe exchange zones when they were brainstorming ways to create innovative, safe spaces for residents.

According to Chief of Police Patrick Gurcsik, the police station already had surveillance cameras in place, so when presented with the idea of the safe exchange zone, the department was quick to be on board.

“This facility has our officers in and out all day and night, so it makes perfect sense,” Gurcsik said.

The safe exchange zone can provide protection to reduce chances of residents being taken advantage of, financially or physically.

“You’re not really sure as to who you’re dealing with on the other end of that Internet interaction, so to come in here and present your product, pay for the product that you’re purchasing from the Internet, there are cameras, there is safety and there is protection from the township police department,” Gattinelli said.

According to Gurcsik, many parents make child custody exchanges in the station’s parking lot, and the police officers receive calls regularly from residents being scammed from online purchases and exchanges.

“We haven’t had any homicides or kidnappings, but we do take plenty of reports from people scammed on Craigslist and eBay,” Gurcsik said. “When the average Joe gets scammed, it doesn’t make the news.”

The safe exchange zone is marked at the police station parking lot with yellow signs and pavement paint, and is monitored by police officers with surveillance cameras.