Haddonfield Police, borough commissioner announce ‘Safe Exchange Zone’

Designated area to conduct business to be placed behind Borough Hall.

A new “Safe Exchange Zone” where residents can meet others for swapping of goods, will be placed behind Borough Hall, within close proximity to the entrance to the Police Department, and will be monitored by HPD 24-7.

Residents of Haddonfield who want to buy, sell, barter or exchange a wide variety of goods with other like-minded individuals will soon be able to do so in a public space, with a level of security that should put them at ease.

The Haddonfield Police Department teased the move in a Facebook post on Jan. 28, revealing that the borough would soon feature what’s known as a Safe Exchange Zone in a confined area behind borough hall. The SEZ is intended to facilitate safer transactions, particularly those arranged via online marketplaces.  

If and when you show up — even though your image won’t be part of some “Candid Camera” sort of broadcast — you will be closely monitored by the local gendarmes. The pending addition resulted from recent discussions between HPD Chief Jason Cutler and Colleen Bianco Bezich, commissioner for public safety. 

“I’m a member of a number of online communities where the goal is to encourage responsible usage of products, and recycle and upcycle instead of merely throwing it away,” Bezich said. “I’m also the mom of a toddler, which means I deal with lots of hand-me-downs and baby gear which is expensive and not sustainably produced.

“The SEZ was designed to facilitate a safe location for others who don’t want people coming to their homes for various transactions,” she added. “The chief and I discussed this, and he agreed, since it costs virtually nothing on a municipal budget to add a sign and to paint on asphalt.” 

During their talks about the plan, Bezich said she and Cutler looked at places in town that  would provide the most safety. The best option was a space next to the police station, for surveillance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

The commissioner also pointed out, and the chief concurred, that police will not be directly involved whenever a meet-up occurs. 

“It’s 24-7 (surveillance) but (the transaction will be) a personal thing between two people,” Bezich explained. 

To drive home the point about the inclusion of a safe space in a conspicuous area, Bezich related a story she was told about a community member who lost a relative in another state. That relative went to buy something from another individual, but was shot at the location of the exchange. 

“We’re really trying to prevent that, and to get folks to buy and trade responsibly and keep residents safe at the same time,” Bezich acknowledged. “We want to guard against this stuff, whether it’s door to door, online or out in the open.

“We want residents to think about their own security ahead of time. We don’t want them going to a stranger’s home, because you don’t know the intention.” 

Bezich also spoke about the size and specific location of the SEZ, enough to reasonably accommodate two people with the requisite personal space. 

“I don’t exactly know about the square footage,” she revealed. “But, if you’re familiar with the area in front of the police department, it’s going to be the space where we keep the electric vehicles. It’s in a place where the cameras are already pointed.

“It’s going to be big enough for two people to have some distance but be able to make their transaction,” Bezich added. “We’re going to be painting it green, (it’s) just a matter of when public works can get to installing the sign and use the paint.”

Bezich expects the SEZ to be in place by the week of Feb, 10, with the official policy behind the area then posted through the usual online channels.