By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City Police Chief Tom McQuillen may be watching you. But don’t worry. It’s a good thing.
From the window in his office at City Hall, McQuillen has a bird’s-eye view of two parking spaces in front of the building marked off with green paint.
Since April 2019, Sea Isle City has designated this area outside City Hall as an “Exchange Zone” or “Internet Exchange Zone.” It is intended as a secure place allowing local residents and visitors to safely exchange items bought online.
“The whole purpose was to provide a safe outlet to conduct internet transactions in a monitored environment. It provides peace of mind for everybody,” McQuillen said in an interview Wednesday.
Police, though, are hoping that even more people will begin using the internet exchange zone instead of, perhaps, meeting each other in an unfamiliar location that may not be as safe.
“It’s certainly there for anybody to use,” McQuillen said.
With internet purchases through Craigslist and other online outlets becoming more popular – especially during the pandemic – the idea is to provide secure areas where strangers may exchange goods and money. This past December was the second time the exchange zone was available during the holiday gift-buying season.
People meet in a well-lighted area directly in front of City Hall that is constantly under surveillance by police cameras.
From time to time, McQuillen will see people using the exchange zone when he looks out the window from the police station on the first floor of City Hall.
Sea Isle is not the only New Jersey municipality to designate a specific area as an internet exchange zone for the public. However, its location directly in front of the police headquarters at City Hall should give people a high “level of comfort,” McQuillen said.
Located along the curb, the two parking spaces reserved for the exchange zone are easy to identify, thanks to their bright green stripes. There is a sign that says “Internet Exchange Zone.”
There is no fee to use the exchange zone. No one needs to make reservations or even notify the police. They can simply drive up and make their exchanges.
The exchange zone can also be used for other person-to-person transactions, such as child custody exchanges, Sea Isle officials said.
“Not everyone wants to go to an ex-spouse’s home,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer noted of child custody exchanges.
In the meantime, Sea Isle is reminding the public that strangers who show up for online transactions may be dangerous. When making arrangements to complete online transactions face-to-face, people are encouraged to follow these safety tips:
- Complete all transactions during daylight hours, if possible.
- Bring a cell phone in case of emergency.
- Notify friends or family about the details of the exchange beforehand.
- Never invite strangers into your vehicle or home – or enter a stranger’s car or agree to meet at a stranger’s home.
- Reconsider any transaction with an individual who refuses to meet at a designated “Exchange Zone.”
- In the event of any emergency, dial 911.
The Sea Isle Police Department will not verify, monitor or facilitate private transactions that are conducted within the exchange zone, the city said. Any complaints regarding transactions occurring in the exchange zone should follow normal criminal or civil complaint procedures.