Ron Mills, a Craigslist antique seller, is cautious when arranging face-to-face meetings with potential buyers. A new service from the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office, however, puts his fears at ease.
The sheriff’s office announced on Friday that its parking lot is now open to residents looking for a secure place to complete online transactions. Mills said he knew he would take advantage of the option after seeing the announcement on Facebook.
Gilchrist County hasn’t had any reported crimes related to online transactions, said Lt. Jeff Manning, spokesman for the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office. He said a recent double murder in Georgia that made international headlines spurred the office to action.
On Jan. 22, a Georgia couple traveled several hours hoping to buy a Ford Mustang after receiving a response to a Craigslist ad. The couple was found shot dead days later, and a 28-year-old has been accused of luring the pair and killing them, according to the Associated Press.
“Anything can happen anywhere,” Manning said. “It doesn’t really matter if you’re a small community or not.”
The office, located at 9239 S. U.S. Highway 129, has cameras in its small parking lot and is staffed around the clock.
“We just want to be able to give a safe location for folks to come and meet,” Manning said.
Mills added a blurb to all of his Craigslist listings letting solicitors know future meet-ups would happen at the office.
“Because of recent events and for the security of both the buyer and seller,” it reads, “ALL transactions will be completed at the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office.”
The 68-year-old Gilchrist resident met a buyer outside the sheriff’s office for the first time on a Sunday.
The deal went smoothly, and the Craigslist buyer told Mills she felt safer.
“There’s always that concern in the back of your mind as far as who you’re dealing with,” Mills said. “It adds a secure feeling for the seller and the buyer.”
Although the county is largely rural, online buying has a foothold – a Facebook group for people interested in buying, selling and trading in Gilchrist County has more than 7,000 members. Manning said he thinks the county’s location contributes to the allure of online marketplaces.
People tend to trade online and look to Craigslist because it’s more convenient, he said.
“For us to go shopping, you’ve got to drive an hour,” Manning said.
Sgt. Becky Butscher, spokesperson for neighboring Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, said the Alachua County Sheriff doesn’t have plans to designate any areas as safe zones, but residents are welcome to meet outside the Sheriff’s office.
“If that’s something someone wants to do, there’s no issue with it,” she said. “We’re always willing to help.”
Mills said he hopes to see other counties follow Gilchrist County’s lead.
“It’s just another thing that makes it possible for a friendlier community,” he said.