In an effort to create a safe space for residents selling goods online, the Tomball Police Department introduced a Safe Exchange Zone Aug. 10 in the police station parking lot at 400 Fannin St.
The zone is made up of two parking spaces outlined in blue and black that will be under 24-hour video surveillance. This zone is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It can be used for child custody issues, for e-commerce, for whatever,” Tomball Police Chief Billy Tidwell said.
Residents who participate in local “Beg, Barter, Buy” pages on Facebook or Craigslist are encouraged to use the zone as a meeting place to avoid going to a stranger’s home. However, officials said Tomball Police officers will not personally witness, facilitate or participate in exchanges.
Tidwell said the zone has already received a lot of attention on the department’s Facebook page, with nearly 10,000 shares.
“We have had 1.4 million people look at the posting and many of those shares are from people other places, asking their police departments, ‘Why can’t you do this?’” Tidwell said.
Tomball Police Officer Jennifer Davis said Facebook users from as far as Louisiana are noticing Tomball’s initiative.
“We’ve gotten a very good response from [Klein, Magnolia and Waller residents],” Davis said. “We’ve also got a good response from people tagging other police departments in [the Facebook post], wanting them to initiate it in their area as far out as Louisiana.”
For now, Tomball is the only city in a 20-mile radius with a Safe Exchange Zone, so city officials are encouraging Harris County and surrounding residents to use the zone in Tomball.
Davis said cities that have implemented the zone in the Greater Houston area include Pearland and Jersey Village.
“This isn’t necessarily a new program, but it’s something that is nowhere in our area, so it’s something we wanted to bring to our area especially because Facebook groups are so popular and they meet all the time, locally, to try to exchange stuff,” Davis said. “We wanted to give people somewhere that they feel comfortable meeting at.”
Additionally, department officials encouraged individuals participating in online exchanges to take precautions when posting on social media by disabling location services and withholding personal information, such as home addresses and credit card numbers.