By TONIA HILL
The University of Chicago Police Department last month launched a new community initiative, the community safe exchange zone within in the lobby of its headquarters, 850 E. 61st Street. It is a designated safe zone open to university and surrounding community members who are making a live exchange by buying or trading items from online or social media networks.
“This is our way of partnering with the community to try to make it safer,” said University Police Chief, Kenton Rainey.
Now more than ever he said people are using sites such as Craigslist and Letgo.com to purchase items from others whom they then meet in person to make the exchange. But in some instances, the exchanges have not always gone as expected.
“We’ve seen an increase throughout the nation with people doing bad things to people who are just trying to make purchases,” Rainey said.
Rainey said there were a series of armed robberies that occurred last month in the Woodlawn area “where victims were lured to Woodlawn and then robbed,” he said. The victims were attempting to purchase items.
Last April, a woman made arrangements through social media to meet with an unknown individual to buy a cellphone in the 6200 Block of South Kimbark Avenue.
The victim met with an unknown man and woman. The man displayed a handgun and took the victim’s cellphone.
The victim fled eastbound, and the suspect fired several shots in her direction, she was not struck.
Rainey believes having the space open to exchanges will add a layer of protection for those who make in-person online purchases because of the presence of law enforcement. Interior and exterior areas of the facility will be monitored for any suspicious activity using security cameras.
“It will give them pause,” Rainey said referring to anyone who does not have the best intentions. He is encouraging the university community and residents to take necessary precautions.
If a person is planning to buy something from the Internet, Rainey suggests getting as much background information as possible before meeting them in person.
Anyone who is planning to use UCPD headquarters can do so Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. there s no need to make an appointment from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There are no fees associated with using the service and is open to the University and community members.
After 5 p.m. the Emergency Communications Center must be called to enter the building. Weapons or drugs, vehicles, large items, liquid or gas-fueled machines, other hazardous materials, or other items that are illegal to possess are prohibited from being exchanged.
University Police will not be physically present to verify, interfere with, or have a role in any of the exchanges taking place through the program.
For more information about the initiative visit safety-security.uchicago.edu/services/safe_zone/.